Navigating Through the Storm

by Korusialhogi


My arm tightened around his waist as I rapidly chased away the last traces of sleep. It was still the early hours of dawn. My beautiful lover was sound asleep. It wasn't a treat I got frequently, having him asleep so serenely in my arms, so I was careful to not wake him up. I gently nuzzled the back of his head, his warmth and scent so inviting I was unable to stop myself. He shifted a bit and muttered something unintelligible and buried himself even deeper into my side. I wanted to chuckle and ravish him with kisses, but I also didn't want to wake him up. Early in our relationship we discovered that tattooing himself on me was an effective cure for his lifelong insomnia.

I sat up a bit to gaze at him. He was such a bounty. After almost a year of being together, of seeing him every day, I still got my breath taken away at the sight of his beauty. He was truly gorgeous, with chiseled features that made him look like he belonged in fashion magazines, contrast of colors so startling that you couldn't look away and with a fire in his eyes that bound your soul to his will forever, at the very first time you laid your eyes on him.

I brushed a strand of hair off his forehead, bending down to cast a gentle kiss on it. I lay down on my back and tenderly drew him to lie over my chest, engulfing him in my arms. I let myself mentally drift back to the day I first met him.

*****

I was 32 years old and my life as I knew it had reached its conclusion. New life with unexplored potential was lying ahead of me. After almost 15 years of service I had left the military to face a world that I hardly knew and which hardly understood me. The luck was on my side. With my background in tactical intelligence I didn't have any trouble in finding a job in privet sector.

It was my first day as the head of investigation and security department in one of the most prestigious law firms. By the end of the day I had met almost every key figure in the firm and made a mental profile of the persons I was to work with. My last stop for the day was corporate litigation department. I intentionally was leaving it for the last. Before coming in for my first day of the office work I had already done some research and had a fair idea about people I was going to work with. The only one that came out impossible to diagnose was Richard Masters, the head of corporate litigation Department. He was the youngest partner of the firm. The only consistency in his character that everybody agreed on was that he was a brilliant lawyer. From there things got so confusing I was tempted to ask if there were several men called Richard Masters. The outside sources and senior management of the firm spoke of him as a ruthless shark. The specialized media depicted him as a merciless and brutal attack dog of the firm's corporate clients, who went for jugular every single time, regardless of the stakes. He was known for his unorthodox view of legal matters and even less orthodox ways of dealing with his adversaries. Some went as far as to say the man was a weapon of mass-destruction in negotiation room with abilities akin to telepathy. The lower circle of management of the firm tended to regard him as the mastermind behind all the firms dealings. This being the only common point of view, from here some tended to see him as the antichrist, who knew nothing of loyalty and was just waiting for opportune moment to stab everybody in the back. The others would swear the man was loyalty personified, who despite his own ambition would never step on others and was always fair in his dealings. The lower personnel were even more confusing. Some would swear he was a slave-driver of the worst kind; the others would melt at the mention of his name, calling him sweet and caring. So when I went to meet him, I was prepared to meet an army of men instead of one man. What I was not prepared to meet was him.

His PA, without even looking from the piles of papers in front of her, motioned in the general direction of his office. The door was half opened and I saw a young man standing in front of the window with some papers in his hand, engrossed in reading. He was young, so much younger than his 31. He was beautiful and soft in appearance with a hint of vulnerability. No wonder people felt terrified when someone that delicate looking turned to be a ruthless killing machine. I was still dazzled by the delicate beauty in front of me, when he lifted his head and looked at me. His face broke into a slow smile. At once, the little magical creature was gone, and suddenly I was facing a shark and on its own turf. I felt my heart rate elevate slightly and my body tense, my muscles shifting in preparation, while my mind was racing trying to rapidly process all the vital data. I realized with a startle that I was in combat mode, just from facing him.

*****

He stirred in my arms and I looked down at him, his bright green eyes peeking out from under luxuriant dark lashes. He smiled at me and rubbed his nose over my chest. It was a peculiar habit of his; he loved smelling things and touching things with his nose. He even claimed that his nose was the most erogenous organ of his. Although I contradicted that claim of his by torturing him for hours with intent to prove that he had other body parts that were more responsive, I found his shapely and small nose to be adorable and I loved it rubbed over my body.

After our morning cuddle, I let him go to the bathroom. When he came back I was sitting on the bed with the paddle in my hands. As he walked in, his smile faltered.

"You can't be serious, I let you paddle me yesterday!" his voice raise to shouting level.

"Keep your voice down," I said sharply. "I will not have you yell at me! Now come here and let's get this over with".

"But you paddled me yesterday!" It was still loud, but was more pleading than shouting.

I stood up and walked to him. He let me hug him without much of a fuss.

"Rick, kitten, what did I tell you will happen if you tried to manipulate me again?" The manipulation was an old sore point for us. When he wasn't bulling people into doing his bidding, he had a tendency to manipulate people into it. Usually most of the people were not even aware of this, but for me, knowing the enormous capacity of his mind for games and strategies, was important to know that there were no ulterior motives behind his words and actions. So, the last time that I caught him in one of his schemes and it almost cost us our relationship I told him I would paddle him every day for a week, if he ever tried that again. Obviously, it didn't make much of impression, since yesterday, the history repeated itself.

He scrunched up his nose at me.

"Kitten?! Oh, for Christ's sake paddle me already, if the alternative is to torture me with pet names." As with everything else he did, he walked determinedly to the bed and waited for me.

As I set down and drew him over my lap, he let out a sigh and went with my motion willingly.

"I need to have my head examined," he muttered and then in a more subdued voice he added, "This means I get to keep you, right?" He buried his face in the bedding and waited.

I double over to kiss him on whatever I could get to, from that position.

"Of course, after all I'm the pest you can't manage to get rid of" I said, repeating the line that he used to introduce me to friends and family. With that I brought the paddle down with force and he yelped heartedly.

*****

I startled awake, alarmed by the feeling of being watched. Thankfully, before doing something irreparable, I realized that it was just Rick. He was seated on the bed, practically hovering over me.

"Are you going to paddle me?" he asked in a low voice.

"Jesus Rick, what time is it?" I rasped, rubbing at my eyes in an attempt to clear my mind from the cobwebs of sleep.

"5:30! Well, are you?" he insisted.

"Are you out of your mind? It's Saturday!"

"I'm aware. You didn't answer my question"

"Rick, baby, I love you, but it's Saturday and I really would like to get at least another hour of sleep." He opened his mouth to say something, but I interrupted him. "Yes, Rick, I am." It came out a bit more forcefully than I intended to. "Now if you don't mind I would like to get some more sleep." With that I turned my back to him, to signal that I was serious about catching up on my sleep.

It was closer to 7 when I woke next. Rick was seated in the armchair at the far side of the room. He was curled into a ball, with a book in his hand and the paddle nestled snuggly between his thighs. As soon as he heard me shift, he stood up and rapidly made his way to the bed, handing me the paddle.

"Argh, Rick, let me pee at least?!" I reluctantly climbed out of the bad and headed for the bathroom. I bent to kiss him on the tip of his nose. "You are batshit crazy, love."

Getting back to the bedroom I set down on the bed and drew him over my lap. The first swat was met with a gasp, after that he balled his hands in the bedding and stayed silent, after several more strikes I smoothed my hand over his back "Rick?! Don't do this."

"Do what?" His body was rigid, voice raspy.

Instead of answering I brought the paddle down with exaggerated force and he yowled, levitating from my lap.

"Johnnyyyy!" He wailed and slumped back in defeat.

I resumed the paddling with my usual intensity and he yipped and owed at every strike.

Afterwards we settled cuddled against the headboard, with Rick plastered against my chest sniffing a bit.

I held him, my heart constricting painfully with the love I felt for him. I closed my eyes, letting the realization of what I had sink in - this was my lover, mine, this wonderful, crazy, unpredictable man was mine and he was giving me a part of himself that he never gave to anyone else. I willed that knowledge to soothe some of the hurts and insecurities that came with our relationship.

*****

It was the end of my first week at the new job. Things were progressing as well as could be expected, but I still had a feeling of being too wound up. That was why Friday night found me in a club, with music blasting and bunch of horny men and women with too much alcohol in their systems.

I didn't stay entirely clear of alcohol either, after all I was there to relax a bit. There were several women who tried getting my attention, but I played dumb. I was in no mood for company, not to mention that women weren't exactly the company I was usually going for. After couple of shots of vodka I headed for the bathroom.

I splashed some water on my face, chasing away the buzz that was firmly installing itself in my head. As I tried to right myself from where I was bent over the sink, someone grabbed me from behind. My training kicked in and I reacted without thinking. In a matter of second I had the perpetrator against the wall, with my forearm pressing into his throat. I was shocked to be met with Richard Masters' crooked grin. The grin, I came to hate during the week. The force I was putting into the hold was noticeable and my forearm was practically choking him, but he was still grinning.

I abruptly let him go and drew back, still towering over him, remaining close enough to be in his personal space. I raised my eyebrow waiting for an explanation.

"I knew you had that violent streak in you," he crooned. "What, with all that strength vibrating under your skin." He reached to pat my biceps. I swatted his hand away and inquired in a clipped voice.

"Is there a reason you are attacking me in public bathroom, Mr. Masters?"

"Oh, don't be like that!" He exclaimed. "I'm just admiring our new acquisition". He leered at me.

I turned to get away from that infuriating man.

"Oh, for fuck's sake man, are you going to fuck me or not? I've been throwing myself at you all week!" He exploded.

I turned back to him, sizing him over incredulously. All that week long torture, the lowered lashes, the wiggling ass whenever I turned the corner, the casual brushing when passing me in the corridors, the blazing gazes, all of it was deliberate? No, I didn't want to fuck him; I wanted to put my fist through his face! But for some unexplainable reason, I was already over him kissing him fervently. When I let go of his mouth in favor of kissing his jaw, he bared his throat to me with a high pitched keening sound. I pressed my forehead to his in a futile attempt to calm myself. The sound he made was so sexy it almost made me come in my pants, like an inexperienced youth. My mind was racing, with all the reasons why this was wrong, sleeping with a colleague, a colleague I barely knew, hooking up with someone while I was drunk, it was wrong, so undeniably wrong! But then why the hell did his body feel so right against mine?

After somewhat calming myself down, I took him by hand with intent to lead him out of the bathroom.

He jerked me by hand.

"You are not stopping!" he said in a voice that left no room for argument.

"I'm not fucking you in a public bathroom," I said in a voice equally resolute.

"If you're worried about public lewdness charges, I know a good lawyer," He said with that lazy smile of his that became my nightmare during this last week. He pushed himself off the wall, with a catlike grace, that had me debating throwing away all sense and taking him right there against that very wall.

That night we somehow managed to make our way to my house. Luckily it was the end of the week, there was no way we would have made to work next day.

*****

I finished getting dressed, the water in the shower was still running, a sign that Rick was not done with showering, which meant he was stalling. I went to the drawer and took the paddle out. I sighed inwardly. It was Sunday. I much rather would have spent time with my lover in a more pleasant ways. I made a mental note, in future, to not make threats that were likely to result in a week long torture for both of us. Alas, for now, the threat was made and I had every intention of seeing it through. With anybody else decreeing that his impeccably good behavior made me give pardon, thus cutting short the punishment, would have worked. With Rick, however, such an act would be viewed as a weakness and he, much like an animal of prey would start on a hunt, in quest of blood.

Rick came out of the bathroom, clad in only a towel, his perfect body on full display, swaying his hips seductively. He gave me one of his patent looks that tended to send my blood boiling. I growled at him, all the while attempting to settle myself long enough to see through the unpleasant task at hand, after which I would be free to get on with more pleasant duties.

"Don't even try that Ricky, your backside gets peppered first and then we can do more pleasurable things." I glowered at him, ensuring that he understood I was not going to back down. "If you will be up to it," I added.

"NO!" he shouted and launched for the door. I jumped after him, but when I got to the door he was already sliding down the stairs with such a speed and carelessness that my heart leaped to my throat expecting to see my lover fall down the damn stairs. That hesitation gave him time to reach the kitchen and dart behind the table.

"You are not paddling me!" he thundered as soon as I entered the kitchen.

"I believe I am," I said calmly. "From where I'm standing, you got two choices" I explained to him in serene voice. "You can come here, apologize for making me chase you..."

"Get stuffed!" he interrupted me, leaning over the table with his hands planted widely on it, assuming a challenging posture.

"Or," I continued as if he never spoke, "I could catch you, and then you will pay for running away from me, on the top of the paddling you are already due."

"Or," he parroted. "I could call the police and report an abuse". He righted himself from the leaning position and crossed his arms over his chest.

I just raised an eyebrow at that. It was not the first time he made that threat.

"You could," I nodded. "But then you would have to pay with blood if you want me to ever take you back after a stunt like that." It earned me a dirty look from him.

"You are so full of yourself. Who the hell you think you are to boss me around? I can ruin your life on a whim, without much effort," he drew a breath seemingly to calm himself. "The fact that I allowed you around me doesn't mean you are anything special, it just means you are mildly entertaining!" He spat with venom.

I felt the anger rise in me and struggled for tighter control over my tamper. I was getting better at this; it was just his usual repertoire.

*****

I ran up the stairs to his bedroom, loosening the constricting tie and undoing the buttons on my sleeves. I knew he was waiting for me. We talked last night about meeting at his place and then heading out for drinks. Well, maybe heading out for drinks, usually we didn't make it outside of the house.

I burst into his bedroom and stopped in my tracks. Rick rose from the lap of the guy he was straddling and walked towards me.

"Oh, I forgot we were supposed to meet today," he said shrugging slightly "As you can see, I'm a bit busy right now, maybe we can get together tomorrow?" he asked innocently.

I felt like I was suffocating.

"Out!" I roared, leaping to the bed and dragging Rick's nameless conquest out of the bed. The guy was smart enough to not argue. He just picked his shirt and fled the room.

I then turned to Rick who stood silently by the door, an amused expression on his face. He looked after his fleeing guest, the contempt obvious on his face. "Coward" he spat.

I rushed to him and took him by shoulders. "What are you doing?" I asked, shaking him by his shoulders. "What are you doing?" I repeated in a roar.

"Don't be so dramatic!" he answered shaking himself free of my grip. "What, did you think? That we were, exclusive?" The taunt in his voice was like oil to the fire already burning inside me.

I fought to control the rising anger, my muscles twitching with desire to wipe that smirk of his face. I didn't say anything, I couldn't trust my voice.

"Oh, you did? How sweetly plebeian of you," he continued. "Honestly, though, I let you fuck me for couple of weeks and you get it into your head that we are an item? Darling, you are just an entertainment, rather good one, but hardly the only one."

"Enough!" I barked. "I'm not one of the sniveling dogs that you so like to surround yourself with. I will not be taunted and played with." I forced him against the wall and continued, "You can act all calm and unaffected, but I know you felt it too. I know you were drawn to me just as much as I was to you. Are you so afraid of loving someone that you will put on this cheap charade to chase me away?" I slammed him against the wall.

He shoved me angrily. "What do you know? You know nothing! You are nothing! Tell me John, what have you ever accomplished? A captain? Laughable!"

The rage was rising unabashed within me, the edges of my vision turning red. From a haze, I heard him going on, "You are a mediocrity. Do you honestly think that someone like me will spare more than a glance at you? You were just a good fuck, that's all!"

I backhanded him, sending him down to the floor tumbling. The realization of what I did was like a bucket of icy water, drowning the fury. I had never raised a hand at someone in anger.

He was staring at me from where he was sitting on the floor, with a startled and awed expression on his face, his hand cupping the injured cheek.

I was horrified. Appalled by my reaction, more so by the fact that I couldn't find it in me to apologize, it felt good and I hated myself for it.

I turned around to leave the room and the temptation to give in to the violence he was raising in me.

"Wait, don't go," he pleaded after me.

*****

"Don't you dare..." I started talking, but was interrupted by a flying pan. He was a very accurate shot, luckily I had good reactions and I managed to duck and bat the pan away simultaneously. This had to stop! I jumped over the table and from there directly on him, tackling him down and trapping him under me.

"Good to know you still are in prime shape," he grinned from under me.

I couldn't believe his shamelessness. He started to undulate under me, panting and keening, knowing full well what that sounds were doing to me. So he was playing distraction games with me? Well my boy, two can play at that. I lowered my head and kissed him gently at first, than deepened the kiss into more possessive one. He whimpered and relaxed. As soon as I felt him melt into a boneless hip, I leaped to my feet taking him with me. Then I swiftly bent him over the table, the towel forgotten on floor and reached in the drawer for the spoon, with no paddle around, a wooden spoon will have to do. He tried to squirm and dislodge my grip, to no avail. I brought the spoon down on his upturned backside forcefully and repeatedly. Rick, grunted and squealed, between the cusses he honored me with.

"Spread 'em," I growled.

"Noooo," the wail was more pitiful then defiant.

"Spread your feet, now boy!" I barked kicking at his feet in the same time. As I started on the under curve of his butt and his inner thighs his yelps got louder and curses turned into heartfelt apologies.

*****

Monday morning came too early for my liking. Last night was perfect, Rick was so sweet when he let go and submitted. After last morning's commotion, things progressed a lot better and we spent the most part of the day in bed. I still tingled all over when remembered Rick gracefully sliding down to his knees in front of me, lowering his eyes down and clasping his hands behind his back. A year ago even suggesting a thing like that would have earned me a fist in the face. Now, he reveled in submission, not that he would ever admit it, usually he would grumble afterwards about being beaten into submission.

"Hi," he rasped and nosed my chest making a show of inhaling my scent. "Hmmm," he sang dreamily.

I grabbed fistful of his hair and dragged him up for a brutal kiss. His hand traveled to the places that were band for Monday mornings, so I batted it away and pulled both of us into sitting position.

"Can't be late for work, love" I muttered with a hint of regret in my voice.

"I don't have a hearing until 11:00, and no meetings either," he said cocking his head a bit to give me a sideway look full of hopeful playfulness.

"Only my schedule does not follow yours, heart," I answered walking to the drawer to retrieve the paddle. At the sight of the paddle he gave out a high pitched whine and buried himself under the covers, ducking his head under the pillows and sticking his ass high in the air.

"Are you going to give me grief about this?" The exasperation in my voice was hard to miss. Some sort of sound came out from under the pillows, but it wasn't something identifiable, the shake of his head though was more pronounced, enough so that it was noticeable even with him buried down under the covers and pillows. He then cautiously peeked out from under the pillow and came out from his hiding sitting desolately on the bed. I had to suppress a chuckle at the sight he presented. With sulking expression on his face, his pouty lips protruding unhappily and with tousled hair he looked all of 4 years old.

"I was being a horror yesterday," he said daring a shy glance at me, hope shining in his eyes that I would contradict him.

I approached him and slid down to my knees in front of him. I gathered his hands into mine and bestowed a quick kiss at the tip of his perfectly shaped nose. "Nah, just in the morning, afterwards you were the perfect angel."

"Perfect, dirty angel?" he questioned with a crooked grin plastered on his face and mischief shining in his eyes. The quick shift in his moods never failed to amaze me.

"Yes, very much so!" With that I sat on bed and drew him to lie over my lap.

*****

I was done for the day, the week actually, so I locked down my office and headed for Rick's. It was a bit after 7 and it being Friday, he should have been done too. Although we had no previous arrangement for the night, I was hoping to get him out for some drinks and a heated week-end afterwards. Our relationship was still somewhat fragile after the ugly fallout we had several weeks ago, but I was working on letting the hurt and mistrust go and he was being more subdued after our big discussion, as he called it. I was still having doubts taking his actions and words at the face value, but I was determined to find a way to make this work; after all I had promised him I would make it work.

I tapped lightly on the closed door of his office and peeked inside.

"Hey. How about a few drinks?" My greeting was met with a genuine, but tired smile.

"Hi! I still have work to do," he said apologetically.

He looked tired, that was to be expected, it was a crazy week for him, but beyond the weariness, there was something else. The ever present distrust in my mind started screaming in alert. But as I sharpened my assessment of his body language and noticed the extreme tension in his neck and shoulders, the tightness of his jaw, the unusual paleness and even a slight wince every time he moved his head. It downed on me he was in a middle of one of his migraine attacks. His hands were trembling slightly and he was fighting to control the tremor, I also noticed his lips were taking on bluish shade.

I went to sit down on the chair opposite to him. Folding my arms on his desk, I rested my chin over my crossed arms.

"How much work do you have, I mean what absolutely has to be done for Monday?" I inquired.

He shrugged. "I'm not trying to get rid of you, you know?"

"I know!" I said pointedly. "How bad is it?" I asked in a gentle tone.

"It's not anything complicated, just need to go over some data before the Monday hearing."

"I didn't mean the case, I meant the headache." His head shot up in surprise at my statement.

"Yes, I know about your migraines, you might hide from everybody how bad they get, but some people still are aware that you have them." Actually, until now I didn't have any idea how bad they got either, I just noticed he had bad days, but now I was starting to realize exactly how ugly his headaches could turn.

He tensed visibly. His gaze became sharp and challenging. Much like a wounded animal, that felt cornered, he was getting ready to attack. I needed to defuse the situation and fast. If not, it would degenerate into another ugly fight.

"So, I figured, instead of drinks and loud music, we should head out to my place and settle for a nice relaxing evening." I leaned back into my seat and stretched. I crossed my arms over my head and relaxed my whole body, radiating calmness and trying to appear as unthreatening as possible. He needed to see I was not a threat. I knew it would help. He was an animal that at some level operated mostly on instinct, he would subconsciously perceive my non-verbal statement.

"Since, all you need to do is just another read through, you'll have plenty time during the week-end, no need to torture yourself now," I added slurring a bit the words to emphasize my state of relaxation.

It worked, he let out the breath he was holding and lightened up. "I don't think I will be much fun as a company," he said with a grimace.

"Don't worry about that. I'm sure we will have a wonderful time," I said, walking around the table and wrapping my arms around his shoulders.

An almost inaudible whimper escaped him and he dropped his head onto his folded arms. "I really don't feel up for sex," he confessed in a low voice.

I picked him up from the chair and stood him in front of me. "Baby, I wasn't suggesting we go to my place for a tumble. There are other things couples do, things that don't involve sex."

"You would want to spend time with me though there is no prospect of sex?" He asked in a surprised tone. I would have thought he was joking if not for his genuinely surprised and grateful tone.

"Oh, sweetheart, you really got to learn how this relationship thing is working." I dropped a kiss on the top of his head. The expression on his face reminded me of a child being told a fascinating secret.

*****

Tuesday morning did not bring the easy calmness of Monday morning. Rick squealed at the sight of the paddle and turned tale.

"Freeze." I barked. "Do not dare to run away. I'm not chasing you through the house once again!" I growled and Rick froze in mid step.

"I'm not running," he answered with indignation of a wrongly accused man.

"Really, then what were you doing?" I requested, feigning an intense interest.

"Retreating," he stated, with a slight shrug.

How I managed to retain a straight face was beyond me. Instead, I made a motion with my finger for him to approach me.

"Ahhhheee, Johnyyyy!" I fully expected him to stomp his feet too, but he decided to retain some semblance of a grown man. Not, that I wasn't enjoying his performance, but the clock was ticking and I needed to get this done.

"Now, Ricky!" I let his name slide of my tongue with a mild growl.

"It's not even fair. You said a week!" My eyebrows rose dangerously close to my hairline. I wasn't sure what he was playing at.

"I didn't realize you were arithmetically challenged, angel. This is only the sixth day. There are seven days in a week. So unless something has dramatically changed in the world, you still got two days of paddling." I explained slowly, as if I was dealing with a child.

"My arithmetic skills are just fine. But, you see, since the middle of the 20th century, most countries adopted 5 day working week, so ...."

"And, you are going to argue that punishment can't be administered on a free days?" I asked with an exaggerated interest. "The problem is, that during the manifestations that resulted in adaptation of 5 day working week, the brat syndicate was busy bratting, so you guys weren't duly represented," I added, getting closer to him and smacking him on the nose.

"Well, I'm sure executioner's guild would have something to say about working more than 5 consecutive days," he looked up at me and grimaced, when couldn't pick up at least a trace of sympathy on my face.

"No worries. I renounce my social security rights," I said unfazed.

"Johnyyyy!" His whine was high enough to pierce my ear drums. I landed a single, hard smack on the hip.

"If you are done pleading for the social rights, we should get on with your paddling and get to work." That remark earned me a grimy look from him.

"You know, you can't just decide things like punishment all alone. It contradicts to all legal principles of democracy," he informed me heatedly.

"Are you saying I'm a dictator," I asked, feigning outrage.

"Yes, a tyrant," he bobbed his head.

"Well! I guess it's not so bad, being a dictator I mean. They are very loved by their people. Look at the poor heartbroken North Koreans for instance." His eyes got bigger at that.

"Oh, you did not just make a joke about a very sad human condition."

I wasn't sure if the scandalized tone was just a play, or he was actually serious.

"If you want me to stop making politically incorrect jokes, get your ass over to the bed so that I can paddle it," I said, making my way to the bed.

"Oh, fine! You draconian tyrant!" He stomped to stand by my side. "I don't want to go over your lap," he announced jutting his chin up and crossing his arm over his chest.

"And since when you are the one to decide about any aspect of your punishment?" I asked sternly. "Over my lap, now!"

He practically got into my face and growled. "Be careful, this year has not been kind to dictators. You might end up with revolution on your hands."

"Hmm, let me think," I said, pensively. "Does that mean I get to use excess force in an attempt to squelch the civil unrest?" I moved forward, forcing him to the wall and cornering him between the bed and the wall. He stuck his tongue at me.

"You could at least pretend that you are not enjoying this so much." It was said in an accusatory tone, but with sparkling eyes.

I shrugged, "We dictators have to be sadists, it's in the job description."

He was going to say something, but I interrupted him "All right, love, let's get this done, we really don't have much time."

"Oh, well, no worries, I can leave..." He never finished his sentence as I sat down on the bed and dragged him onto my lap, pressing his head into beddings to indicate I did not want to hear anything more out of him.

*****

It's been three long days since I had walked out on Rick after that ugly episode he so carefully orchestrated. The anger and betrayal was still so fresh, it felt like a constant bitterness in my mouth. I did everything to avoid him, I was not sure what would I do if I was to see him again. I hated what he had done to me, played me like I was nothing, but a pawn on a side game he used to entertain himself with. I hated, that I reacted the way that I did, I always prided myself with the tight control over my emotions and my temper and it took five minutes and couple of words for him to make me lose it. Most of all I hated that I couldn't forget about him, that I couldn't let him go, that somewhere in the deepest corner of my sole I still wanted him for mine. After three days of internal struggle I decided that it was unbecoming to keep avoiding him. When I tapped at his office door late in the evening, I hadn't known yet whether I was going in to end it all definitely, or to see if his plea for me to stop, to not leave held anything genuine in it and might offer us a second chance.

There was a fraction of a second of surprise on his face and for an unbelievably short moment, I thought I saw relief, but I was not ready yet to trust my judgment when it came to him. Despite my former rigorous training in behavioral analysis, it looked like I made mistakes in my assessment of him, so I was still trading cautiously. After that initial short-lived moment his expression was back to his usual well-schooled casual indifference. He gave a slight tilt of his head, indicating that I had his attention.

"I came to apologies. I had no right to raise a hand at you"

"Don't worry. I don't intend to sue you." His face flickered with something akin to disgust and I felt the ire rising in me once again.

"I do not offer my apologies in hopes that you will not pursue legal retribution for what I did. I do apologize because it was wrong and I'm sorry I hit you." I realized that I walked too close to his desk and I was practically looming over him, but I couldn't care less if I radiated hostility and was not looking very apologetic.

"Don't insult me!" It was a demand made by a man used to being obeyed. "You are not sorry that you slapped me, it felt right, it felt good! You even are tempted to give it another go!"

"You are right, it felt good and I am feeling compelled to hit you right now, but it does not change the fact that it was wrong. I'm sorry for behaving like a less then civilized human being. No matter how appalling your behavior was, I should have maintained the standards of accepted social conduct to the level I was raised to uphold. I failed to do so and for that I'm sorry. I will understand, if you choose to sue me and I can assure you I won't deny the episode."

"Of course you wouldn't." He snorted. "If you were a bit nobler than you already are I would puke." He stood up from his chair and turned to stand in front of the window, with his back to me. With a gesture of a hand suitable for a royalty he said "You are free to go, Mr. Lowes."

Suddenly I realized that he turned to stand with his back to me, because he didn't want me to see something on his face and by the looks of his shoulder line I could guess what he was so desperately trying to hide from me. At that moment I knew why I came into his office.

I forcefully turned him around so we were face to face and held on to him, making sure he would stay where I wanted him.

"What are you so afraid of that you would rather toss out any chance of happiness we might have?" I demanded looking him straight in the eye.

"Are you kidding me?" He exploded and pushed with both his hands at my chest, shoving me back where I stumbled on his chair and barely held my balance. "I begged you to not go." He gave another shove and then another. "You were the one who took off! You were the one you turned tail the second I hinted I was not exactly a fluffy bunny, the second I showed some teeth!" I was stunned. At that point he had pushed me almost all the way to the wall, his chair being the only thing that was between me and the wall, but I felt less trapped and more in control than in these past 3 days. What I have felt in my gut from the first time he approached me in that bathroom, was practically being spelled out. He retreated, clearing the way for me to leave. He stood there, with his head bent and with his eyes hidden under his messy bangs, looking so vulnerable my heart ached. The mist of hurt and anger dissipated, clearing my mind for the first time in these several days. I reached for him. He dodged and took a step back.

"I'm not a nice person, Johnny. If you can't handle...."

"Hush!" I grabbed him and dragged him into a tight embrace. "I don't share what's mine. Not now, not ever. Do it again and you will pay a price that you might feel is too high." He lifted his head up to look at me with a question in his eyes. "Actually scratch that, it is just not going to happen, period".

He shook his head slightly and bent it down. "I can't promise that." He looked up again and said in a firmer, more confident voice and a hint of challenge in his eyes. "I told you, I'm not a nice person. Now that I know your vulnerable points I will keep trying to use it as leverage against you."

"Go ahead, try. I'm gonna put a leash on you so short that you will feel like we are joint at hip." I kept a sharp eye on his reaction at my words and felt a slight shudder go through his body. He briskly shook his head as if to clear it from the haze that was settling in.

"You talk big game John. All the others who thought they were going to leash me ended up either lapping at my hands like good dogs they were, or running for their lives." His posture was rigid, gaze sharp and demanding.

"I'm not all the others." I said with an easy shrug.

"I don't know, you seem so eager to forgive me for my past transgressions, so keen to take me back. It's hardly motivational for a better behavior in the future." The slight raise of his eyebrow and the taunt in his voice were the last straw. All the pieces were on the table, the picture was complete. It was beyond doubt we two fitted together perfectly, two pieces of one puzzle.

"Who said I forgave you?" I crossed my arms over my chest, flexing a bit my muscles to enunciate their size. "I believe in paying for your mistakes, Mr. Masters." He jerked his eyebrow a bit up, as if saying "oh, really", a slight smile gracing his lips.

I already had made my mind. I reached for my belt and started unbuckling it. It crossed my mind that this was hardly safe, sane and even less consensual, but it felt too right to be wrong.

"Are we going to have an angry make up sex?" He enquired with a mocking tone. "In the office? Well aren't you an adventurous one."

At that moment I knew for sure, that contrary to me, he never had been in this kind of relationship, not any kind of relationship really. For all his experience in casual sex, he was a novice in aspects of mature relationship, never having actually been involved emotionally with anybody. Though he asked for it, he didn't know what he was asking for. But I had no intention of denying him his wish.

"Penalty first, beautiful." I smiled a predatory smile and pulled the belt free. I doubled the belt in my hand and gave his left cheek a slight caress with it. His eyes got bigger as the realization hit him.

"We can do it here, but I don't think you want the security hearing your screams and barging in, interrupting us before we are finished." His breathing pattern was irregular. It was getting faster by the moment. I could see in his eyes the fast pace of his mind. I could lose him, if I did not play this right, so I walked closer to him and bent down to whisper in his ear. "And you are going to scream! First from pain, then from pleasure." His body was still stiff, mind undecided. "Let me show it to you. How beautiful it can be. Don't let the cowardness you so hate in others rule your life." His breathing slowed down, he deliberately relaxed his body and lifted his head to face me. He accepted my challenge.

He allowed me to lead him out of his office, with a look of slight apprehension and open vulnerability on his face. It warmed my heart beyond words, that I was the one honored to see him like that, open and unguarded. I knew at that moment, that even thou the anger, the hurt and distrust would not magically disappear, I was going to put all I was in the fight for this relationship.

*****

Wednesday morning I was unusually reluctant to let go of the sweet captivity of the sleep. I was unwilling to face another day of Rick's punishment. The realization that it was the last day was helping a little, but not entirely. He was a bit off last night, when he came back from a very long working day. He wasn't very talkative and I didn't push him, sensing him to be on edge and ready to unleash at the slightest of provocation. Instead I chose to turn in early and soon he too joined me in bed, snuggling against me. That was a good sign, but hardly indicated the danger was over. So this morning I was expecting to have a monumental fight on my hands over the paddling. After stalling a while I finally opened my eyes. Rick was not in the bed, which was odd. Usually he would not be able to get out of the bed without me waking up. I groaned, this meant he had a head start on me and probably had already worked himself into a battle rage.

I cautiously padded downstairs and tried to get a feeling of where he was. I was met by a complete silence. Nothing indicated he was even in the house. Making a mental note to kill him if he left the house, I headed for the kitchen. Nothing. From the hall I could see the study door left ajar, which offered me a partial look into the empty room. A slight noise from the living room caught my attention. I shook all residual hesitance and headed for the leaving room.

Rick was huddled on the far side of the sofa, nearer the window, with his head resting against the back of the sofa. Slight tremors were running through his body. He looked so vulnerable and miserable my heart leaped to my throat.

"What's wrong, baby?" I rushed to him and kneeled in front of him. He whimpered and tried to hide deeper into the back of the couch, his face now completely concealed from me. I rose to seat beside him on the couch and gathered him in my arms, virtually forcing him to turn towards me. Instead of facing me, he hid into my chest. I rested my chin on the top of his head and started to rock him slightly.

"Angel, you need to talk to me. I need to know what's wrong," I spoke with a calm that I didn't feel. I have never seen him like this. It was like he came unglued, shedding all the protective layers of his personality, relinquishing all the control. Only I have seen him in deep submission, where he opens himself completely, and this was not it. There was pain and hurt and sadness in his posture that were pointing to some terrible loss. My mind was racing, trying to understand what could have him in this state. My mind refused to provide any explanation.

"Please, don't paddle me." His voice was thick with fear. I froze. If my heart wasn't beating fast until that moment it went crazy at the sound of the anguish and dread in his voice. "I know, I deserve it, but I can't take it anymore, please," he whimpered weakly. My throat was so dry I couldn't manage a single word. How did I miss this? I could I not see that I was pushing him too hard? Was it possible that I inadvertently pushed him beyond his limits? I was sure that was not the case, but his state was contradicting my judgment. I wanted to break my own arm for hurting him like this. My eyes stung dangerously close to spilling tears. How was this possible? The question became a mantra in my head. My strong, unbreakable, beautiful lover, how could I hurt him so badly without even realizing? How could this happen so suddenly, yesterday morning he seemed his usual resilient self. I was nearly panting at this point, the muscle in my jaw and neck so tight I needed to consciously relax them in order to keep breathing.

"Johnny?" He quickly glanced at me and then hung his head down slightly, turning it so that he faced the window once again. There was a concern in his voice, that was obvious, but there was something else. In my worked up state I couldn't really put my finger on it, but something inside me churned uncomfortably. Why wasn't he facing me? He usually would look me in the eye, reading me through my eyes much like I read him through his. Doubt squeezed my heart in its icy grip and nausea hit me full force. Was he playing me?

"Rick? Ricky!" It came out sharp as a crack of a whip. He didn't look at me. I took him by his jaw and tried to force his head to face me. He whined and pulled his head back. I stood up abruptly from where I was sitting dumping him off of my lap onto the floor.

"Are you playing me?" He winced at the roar I gave and looked at me for the first time.

"Why do you have to win all the time? You've been a righteous bastard all week!" He tried to kick me in the shin, from where he was seated on the floor. I reacted fast and kicked his foot away. I felt like my mind was exploding. I needed to get out before Rick would say or do something to make me lose my grip on my tamper completely. Rick seemed alarmed by my reaction, but I couldn't spare much thought on that.

I still couldn't get my breathing under control, my temper rising to alarming levels of aggression. Still shaking with anger and hurt, I turned and left the room. Upstairs I hurriedly put on some clothes and headed out, knowing I would have to call in to take a day off, because there was no way I would be able to work that day.

He was waiting on the bottom of the stairs, looking apprehensive.

"Where are you going?" He tried to block my way, but my glare was enough to make him step aside. That was a good thing. I was not sure I would be able to refrain from strangling him, if I put my hands on him.

"Johnny, I'm sorry. I really am! Don't go please."

I ignored him and walked past him. He caught me by my arm.

"Johnny, please! You know I'm a jerk, you can't take things I do to your heart."

"Let go!" My snarl had him snatch his hand back like he was burnt. It offered me a small satisfaction, that I was able to beget a real fear out of him. That sentiment was short leaved. The next second guilt hit me full force, when I realized I was enjoying my lover's fear. I needed to get out, to cool myself down.

As soon as I stepped outside of the house, I started running. I ran like I was running for my life. Rick had hit me where it hurt the most. Only a couple of months ago, I confessed to him, that after all the years of living the lifestyle, my deepest fear still was that I could unintentionally harm my lover. I tried to explain to him the intoxicating power the dominance offered and how easily the line could be crossed. In addition to usual unease of any responsible dominant, I also had to deal with the fact that my superior physical strength and training could spell danger, if not tightly controlled. Rick knew exactly what he was doing, when he chose this course of action. After all, he had once warned me, that he would use my weaknesses against me every chance he had.

After running for God knows how long I finally stopped, sore and out of breath. I crashed down right where I stopped, by the side of the road. I sat there, with my head in my hands and wept. I did not know what I was mourning. Whether it was my inability to understand him, or see him for what he truly was, or that it seemed I was not strong enough to contain him and anchor him, or the fact that all that I worked so hard to gain in our relationship seemed lost. I couldn't believe I misjudged him so completely. Was it all a lie? Did he pretend all this time? Has he ever shown me his true self? And more importantly, was it all over? Should I still fight for us? Was there a point to continue with a relationship that turned out to be so toxic? Did I have any more strength left to keep on fighting, knowing that it all was probably just a game for him? Oh, God! How could he have faked it all? How could my sweet, beautiful Rick be just a lie, an act?

*****

It's been over two months, closer to three, since the day I took my belt to him. That night I took him to bed as my submissive for the very first time. He surprised me, by giving in easily under the pressure of my dominance. Later I realized that it was probably because he was physically and emotionally drained after a very severe punishment. It was absolutely stunning, how beautiful he was when he submitted. He opened to me so completely, baring a dazzlingly sweet and submissive side to him.

I craved to see him submit like that again, but since then, he had built his barriers up again and would meet all my attempts at dominance with open hostility. As the matter of fact, he would meet everything I did with hostility. He was aggressive beyond reason, snarling and growling around me, as soon as I would open my mouth. Going as far as to get in a fight with me even about the way I sat, or walked or stood. He accused me of looming over him, of stretching myself on the couch as if I was the king of the jungles or that I was walking beside him like I was walking a dog. For all the fights he would generate, when I suggested that if I was that horrible and intolerable, maybe there was no point in dating any more, he practically jumped at my throat sneering and demanding to know if my answer to every obstacle was running away. I wanted to thump him over the head. Instead I opted for rolling my eyes, which was rapidly becoming my patented gesture. In all honesty, I would have refused to let him go even, if he walked on me. It was just my way of reminding him that he was in this relationship by his own free will.

It was becoming more and more clear to me that I needed to push him and hard, if I wanted for him to embrace his role as a submissive. My reluctance for pushing him truly was due to the fact that it was impossible to actually discuss with him about the matter. He flat out refused any negotiation or talks on the matter of submission. I would have considered letting the issue go, rather that risking harming him as a result of walking into it half blind, but the pushes and pulls he gave was so prominent and so telling, that it would have been cruel to ignore his need for submission.

With the decision made, I took him one Friday night to a club serving the community. I figured that it might do him some good to see other people living the lifestyle and maybe talk to other doms and subs.

After he insulted the third dom and practically wiped his feet over the owner of the club, I forcibly removed him from there and took him to his house, that we had started to call home for about a month.

As soon as we made it into the living room, I tossed the car keys at the table and stood in front of him with my feet spread a bit, firmly planted on the ground and arms crossed over my chest.

"Go get a belt, jeans down, feet spread and hands on the wall."

"Go to hell, I'm not going to bring you a belt." His posture matched mine. I moved to him, without untangling my arms, I leaned over to murmur into his ear in a menacing tone.

"If I'm the one to go after the belt I will take the skin of your ass." He gave me an assessing look and whatever he discovered prompted him to stomp upstairs.

He came back with the belt I used on him the first time, although it was not easy to find, since it was with the part of my staff that was still not unpacked. He practically threw it at my face. It would have hit me straight in between my eyes if I didn't manage to catch it.

Without any further prompting from me, he pulled his pants down, baring his perfectly shaped ass to me and went to stand by the wall. As soon as he put his hands on the wall I went to him. I kicked his feet wider and dragged him farther away from the wall, putting more strain on his muscles, making it hard for him to stay in the position. I rubbed my front to his bared bottom, to enunciate the difference in our clothing. I rolled the tail of his shirt up, to bare his bottom and the small of his back. I stepped back a bit and let the belt fly. He held his ground with remarkable stoicism for the entire whipping, only at the absolute end of it he gave away a couple of slight yelps. I debated showing him that I could make him scream if I wanted to, but I could see his emotions were too close to surface and didn't want him to perceive it as being beaten into submission.

By the time I finished, he was struggling to maintain position, with his head hanging law between his shoulders, trembling a bit. I patted his flaming bottom and pressed the belt where his hands were resting against the wall, making him hold the stretched belt between his hands.

"Hold to that and don't shift position." I instructed, as I walked to the couch and sat down for a long wait. For a while I let myself be distracted by the news, but after a while I zeroed my attention on him, feeling that it was getting harder and harder for him to stay in the position I put him in.

"How long do I need to stay like this?" He mumbled, with too much of an annoyance in his tone for my liking.

"Till you lose the attitude. After that you can come and kneel at my feet." He snorted at that, he actually snorted. I walked to him and gave his already sore bottom a stinging slap. He hissed and tried to jump closer to the wall, but I encircled his waist and kept him in place.

"I can repeat the performance with the belt, if you need me to. You are going to learn to kneel properly at your dominants feet, boy. Even if I have to stay up all night with you." He went rigid under my arms. It was the first time after his first belting, that I so openly called him a submissive and reinforced myself as his dominant. I pressed closer to him and continued, "Unless you want to safeword." I wanted to remind him of his option to stop it all, since the only time that I talked about safe words and gave him his, he practically growled at me, saying he didn't need a safeword.

"My arms are hurting." He stomped his foot. I smacked his bottom again. That earned a whimper. "And my lower back is aching." That was said in a more subdued voice than I have heard from him in over two months.

"Are you ready to try kneeling?" He just shook his head and visibly pulled himself together.

I went back to the couch. The news was over, so I surfed the channels for a game that would hold my attention. Another half an hour passed, with me stealing glances at him to assess his state. His breathing was getting more and more labored, I knew he was fighting to retain his posture and not start crying. He was shifting from foot to foot, arching and relaxing his back, and trying to roll his shoulders without taking his hands off of the wall.

"Ricky, would you like to come here and kneel?" I inquired in low, sympathetic voice.

"I can't!" He uttered in a pleading voice.

I walked to him and helped him straighten. He groaned as he shifted into fully standing position and lowered his arms. I held him to my chest, until his stance became firmer. I settled him on his knees, by the couch, on the thick rug that I had placed closer to the couch. He struggled a bit, but eventually he gave in to the pressure of my hands on his shoulder and sank down to the floor. I picked up my abandoned tie, to use it as a blindfold. I sat back on the couch and tried to pull him to lean onto my leg. He was rigid, refusing to let go and take comfort. I too sank down to the floor, positioning myself behind him. Gathering his hands into my arm, I grind his bones painfully together, till he keened in distress. I pushed his upper body a bit forward, forcing him to bend his head, with one hand pulling his left knee to me, in order to make his knees to open wider. With his hands still in my firm grip, I sneaked my other hand under his shirt to pet his belly. I saw a tear escape from under the tie and noticed that the lower edge of the tie was soaked with tears.

"Baby, you want to safeword?" He shook his head no and choked a sob. "I'm going to let go of your hands, think you can keep them there?" This time it was a nod and he clasped his hands together as I released them. We sat like that for a long time, with me sitting behind him, rubbing alternately at his belly and back.

*****

My head snapped up as I heard a car screech and come to a halt right in front of me. It was Rick's car. He came out of the car and came to kneel in front of me, on the side of the road.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, John! Please, just please let me explain. I'll do anything, just let me explain." He begged desperation clear in his voice. Well, as clear as anything could be with him. He was trembling a bit, but the cynical part of my brain reminded me that so was he this morning.

"What can possibly explain your appalling performance that spat in the face of everything we've built...I thought, we've built this last year?" I tried to make my voice sound strong, but it came out raspy and lost to my ears. "I would rather you got out of my sight. Go to work, you are late as it is." I turned my head away in an attempt to avoid looking at him. I couldn't trust that face.

"Screw the work Johnny. Please Johnny, I don't want to lose you. Did you hear me? I said screw the work. I never say that, you know that! Nothing is more important for me than work, only turns out that you are! I already called Ed to let him know I will not be in." He was chatting rapidly, trying to catch my face in his hands and make me look at him.

"Please Johnny, look at me! Look me in the eyes. My eyes have never lied to you, you know that! Please don't let me go back to the life that wasn't even mine. You taught me things about life, about my own self that I had no hope of finding out on my own." He sounded close to hyperventilation.

"Please Johnny! You always said that I need to talk to you, to say things straight forward, not hint and scheme in hopes you will figure it out. I'm talking now, please hear me?" He pleaded and pressed his forehead to my head, I jerked back. But I looked at him, really looked. He was crying, with his head down. As he felt my eyes shift on him, he lifted his head and returned my gaze, looking straight into my eyes. Fat tears were rolling down his pale, sharp cheeks. His green eyes like the purest of the emeralds, their color enhanced by the tears.

"Why did you do it?" I spoke cautiously. He dropped his eyes. "No! Look me in the eye and explain," I barked.

"I'm an idiot. A control freak." His lips trembled and his little nose got even reader as he fought to keep his crying under control. "I lost the Berscky case yesterday. That's why I was so grim. It made me angry. I felt like by submitting to you I lost myself, like once I let go of the control with you I lost it for good, in every aspect of my life." I don't know what changed in my gaze or expression, but he almost broke down, "Please don't look at me like that. Try to understand you awoke emotions in me I never even suspected I was capable of having." He forcefully wiped the tears from his eyes. "I don't know what to do with those! I don't know how to handle the fact that I find myself daydreaming about you, that I crave your touch during the day and miss you when I only had seen you an hour ago. I don't know what to think about the fact that I find calm when I'm kneeling for you, or when my stomach drops when I hear you growl and I want to prostrate myself in front of you. It is not me, I don't do that kind of stuff! How can't you not understand?!" He sounded frenetic.

"So it's my fault you can't handle your emotions?" I asked angrily.

"No! I did not say that! Arghh," he let out a frustrated groan. "I hate what I have become, but I don't hate it. Not really. The hot shot lawyer in me hates it, the one that was used to being on top hates it. But that part of me, that you awoke, the real me, it is more than happy. I don't want to go back to the emptiness that drove me higher and higher till there would have been nothing for me but to step off of the edge of the world. I'm an ugly person, but when I look into your eyes I see my own reflection as someone so loved and I think I can't be that bad, if a great man like you loves me." He shook his head. "I'm not even making any sense am I? You were always so much better in understanding me."

"Yeah and you just pissed on all that." I hated the bitterness in my voice. I wanted to forgive him, to gather him in my arms and be able to feel that extreme joy I always felt when I held him. But I couldn't. I was still too raw and hurt. So I stood up and he fallowed me. "How exactly was that charade this morning supposed to help you?"

"I don't know! I just wanted to show you and prove it to myself that I still could control things from behind the scenes. I wanted to hurt you. Don't ask me why, I know it's not something you deserved. I'm just a vile man."

"Yes you are." He looked stung. I hardened my heart against his hurt look; I needed him to understand what he had done. How could he use my innermost fears and emotions against me? How could I love someone who would deliberately hurt me like that? I knew so much about him, but I would have never been able to use that knowledge against him. Or, maybe that was exactly what I was doing. Turning my back to him, when I knew he had some serious abandonment issues. After all, this was a man I loved greatly. I let my mind wander to all the times that he did something extraordinary, kind and sweet. Like standing up for a paralegal, who was a single mother and facing a real possibility of losing her job over some mistake, she retained her job thanks to him, or sitting with interns, even the ones from other departments, patiently explaining to them the intricacies of legal profession, or stopping to help our neighbor, an old widow with different tasks of household, or the incredible passion for his work that set his eyes ablaze, or the fierce loyalty to his friends and family.

I stopped and turned to look at him. "Go home, or go to work. I need some time to cool down. I'll see you in the evening." He threw himself at me and hung down my neck like a limpet. I melted into that hug and gave him a squeeze. "Go, we will figure this out." I left him standing there and headed away, to the only man who survived this man for long enough - his father. I could talk to him freely, knowing he would understand me. The man knew his son very well and would be able to offer some insight.

*****

Michel Masters burst out from his office as soon as his secretary announced me. Rick's warm and open smile greeted me from his father's face. It made my chest constrict with pain. I loved that smile.

"Johnny, my boy." He encircled me in his arms. Rick had inherited Michel's youthful looks. Just like Rick, Michel didn't even get close to showing his age. Rick bore a distant resemblance to his father, they had the same facial futures, but Michel did not have the startling coloring of Rick. The milk-white skin, delicate nose, green eyes, coral lips and almost black hair, Rick had inherited his coloring from his mother.

He hauled me inside his office and closed the door behind us. Michel cupped my face and looked at me with compassion tattooed on his face.

"What did he do?"

"That obvious, huh?" I shrugged a little.

"It's not even lunchtime and you appear in my office unexpected, looking like a kicked puppy. I know the handiwork of my son when I see it." It was said in a sad tone and even a bit apologetic.

He led me to sit on the chair opposite of his desk. Then he leaned on the edge of the desk, right in front of me.

"Spill it, it's not like you can shock me. I am very much aware of my son's shortcomings that would send any sane man packing."

"Are you saying I'm NOT sane?" I laughed incredulously. I loved how Michel could always make me loosen up.

"Well, you are living with my boy 24/7, it doesn't exactly scream sane!" He dropped a fast kiss on my forehead and then turned serious again.

"Come Johnny, you came to talk, so go ahead." He gave an encouraging nod and waited.

He was right. I came to talk to him and now I was behaving like an obstinate child. I loved and respected this man. After all, anybody who would have the courage to raise a child on his own when he was barely 20, was worthy of admiration. Rick was the fruit of a short-lived romance between his 19 year old father and not much older aspiring actress and singer. Despite a very strong opposition from his wealthy and snobbish family, Michel encouraged her to keep the baby, when they discovered the pregnancy. But soon after the birth, it became obvious that things were not working between them and that raising a child was not her first priority. She left Michel to raise Rick alone and disappeared. Michel dedicated himself heart and soul to Rick, in hopes of compensating the absence of a mother, as well as his own family's cold indifference towards his son. He married much later, when Rick was 15 to a wonderful woman. Rick adored his step mother and was fiercely protective of his family and especially of his much younger twin sisters.

I rubbed my hands over my face and looked up at him tiredly.

"He made me think I hurt him, really hurt him, that he was afraid of me. And I don't mean a bit of pretense, no, it was well planned. He probably spent all night scheming. I found him this morning huddled on the couch and crying. I..." I couldn't continue. My throat had tightened from the remembrance of this morning's events. I couldn't go into many details, but I was sure that Michel understood that it was not a childish play that had me in this state.

I was grateful Michel did not ask for details. I was not sure what he knew about the nature of our relationship, but he was always very perceptive of our need for discretion.

Michel pushed himself off the desk, "Johnny, he probably didn't thi..."

"Don't say he didn't think it through!" I interrupted him with a bit too much force. "He is the most calculated and bright men I've ever met, he can analyze the consequences of a fallen leaf in the Amazon rainforest on the global economy and find causality between the event and the current financial crises."

Michel sighed and put his arms on my shoulders and bent over me.

"He isn't at his brightest when he panics. He doesn't handle strong emotions well."

"He IS all about strong emotions!" I insisted.

"Not positive ones. He loves you John. I know at times it might not seem like that, but he does. He has a peculiar way of showing his love that's for sure." He straightened and went back to sit behind his desk. "Did I tell you that he tried to seduce Jenny, right before we got married? And don't think that at 15 he wasn't already proficient in that particular art. How she didn't run away from us screaming is beyond my imagination."

I snorted, "Yeah, I know the story. The reason behind it is quite sweet, actually. He told me, he wanted to make sure she was really in love with you and was not going to run with the first man that crossed her path and break your heart." Michel nodded. "He considers love to be a vulnerability, doesn't he? " I asked.

"That's probably partially my fault." He didn't elaborate. I didn't need him to.

"The point is," he continued, "he does things with reason, always. It might not be the nicest or gentlest way of doing things, but he always has a reason for doing things." He leaned forward and fixed his gaze at me. "He is drawn to your strength. He always loved good challenge. People usually give in to him easily, so he thrives when he is met with resistance. He wants you to react, to fight, to show off your muscles, so to speak."

"He might not like what he will get."

Michel chuckled. "Oh, he will like it. He loves a good fight. He is not delicate, though he might look that way. But he also is not heartless. You love him and a man like you does not like appearances, you saw something in him." He sat back, tilted his head and looked at me with assessing eyes. "Tell me, what do you love about him?"

His question took me by surprise. How can someone describe what makes him love another person? I waved my head in uncertainty.

"Uhmm, I don't know? I admire him for the passion he has for his work?" Michel made a comically bored face and interrupted me.

"Oh, come on, Johnny, you are not writing a university admittance essay about a famous person who inspires you." I laughed heartedly, the tension in my muscles relaxing significantly.

"No, really!" I shook my head, "I love his passion, not only about his work, but everything he does. Have you seen him doing housework? He approaches it like a battle, making strategies, then going to tactics. Half of the time I expect him to do some research on internet and then start putting his clothes in order or doing the dishes. Uh, you know he doesn't use dishwasher for anything less than a party worth load of dishes? Apparently using the dishwasher for only couple of dishes puts a strain on natural environment, that can't be justified or compensated by the gains its usage offers." I laughed. "Don't ask me to decipher what exactly that means." I became silent, submerged in my thoughts and then in an almost whispered tone I continued, "I love how he stops in the streets to help an old person cross the street, or find where they parked their car. I love that he always gives money for charity, and never puts his name under donations. I love how he helps Ms. Olbridge from across the street. You know in the beginning I asked him once, why does he insist on doing these little tasks, it's not like she can't afford to hire a help, after all she does have people hired to help her with different things. He told me that it was not about getting the things done, but about letting her know that people still could see her, that they knew she still was around." My voice trailed off a bit. "I love how he scrunches up his nose, I even love how he leaves all his clothes around the house and drives me mad about it, that I have to persecute him for weeks in raw to get him to tidy up the place a bit. I love how he sees positive parts in everything, how he can get excited about little things. I love how the sun reflects off his hair. I love how he smiles when he greets me, how he looks at me....I just love him." I hung my head and tried to get my emotions under control, I wanted to go home and squeeze him to my chest. I couldn't lose Ricky, not for anything in the world. He might have the oddest ways of communicating, but I was learning his language, slowly but surely.

"Don't let him drive you away. Just hold your ground and you will see that the rewards you get are worth all this. He just needs the certainty that no matter what he does, you are strong enough to handle him, that you will not abandon him." He did not need to say more, I was familiar with Rick's issues.

"Yeah, he might be a horror, but he is my sweet horror." I sighed and stood up.

"Thanks Michel." Then I added in a more playful tone, "You do realize that I'm going to have to strangle your son for this, don't you."

Michel came to stand in front of me and tapped my shoulders. "You've got my parental blessing to kill him. Now let's go feed you lunch, a body as huge as yours needs fuel. Especially if you are to face that hellion I spawned."

*****

It was after 7 when I arrived home. I spent the majority of the day with Michel, who used the time to tell me series of outrageous little stories having Rick as protagonist, from a really tender age to mid-twenties. After that I dropped by my parents' place and spent couple of hours with them, not mentioning my fallout with Rick. There was no point in bothering them with our troubles, I had already made my peace with Rick, I was just trying to settle my mind and being around my parents helped a lot.

When I finally got home, Rick immediately appeared in the living room door. He looked at me shyly, not sure if he should meet my eyes. I beckoned him with my finger. He threw himself at me and held on to me for dear life. I squeezed him equally heard and rocked him a bit.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!"

"Angel, this kind of behavior has got to stop! It's destroying us." I took his head in my hand and tilted it up.

"I know," He choked. "I can't do this alone," he pleaded, looking intently into my eyes.

"Did I ask you to? Did I ever leave you alone in any of this?" He shook his head in denial and pressed his face against my chest.

I led him into the living room and set us on the sofa. He immediately stood up, went to roam through the papers spread on the table and came with a heap of printed papers in his hand. He offered it to me and waited expectantly.

"What is this?" I took the papers from him and skimmed through it. It was a paper regarding the role of trust in power exchange relationship. It was clearly a well-documented work. Footnotes and references indicating a thorough research and analyzes.

"Doing a paper on the matter of trust does not signify you actually understand its importance."

He dropped his eyes to the ground and whispered, "I know," and then a more quite, "isn't it a start, though?"

I took him by the hand and pulled him to sit on my lap. "It is a start and I'm sorry." His head shot up.

"What for?"

"I wasn't exactly nice to you this morning or right now."

"Johnny, you don't apologize or be nice to people who are horrible to you." He shook his head vehemently.

I kissed his nose and cupped his face.

"I have an obligation to treat my lover decently, no matter what. I should have asked for explanation and not explode like I did."

"After what I did? I deserved a lot worse." He kept his eyes on me, making sure I could see he was not pretending.

He left my lap and went back to the table and came back with the paddle. He stood in front of me for a second, looking lost and uncertain. Then he slid down to his knees and held the paddle out to me.

"Rick, no!" He looked at me with anguish in his eyes.

"Please, John, I still have a paddling left. I need to know you forgive me."

"And one paddling is going to cover today's events?"

He shook his head no. "I deserve to be paddled another week and then maybe another." He hung his head lower still holding the paddle for my taking. "I'm just not sure I can take it." His voice was so hushed I barely heard him.

I took the paddle from him and prompted him to stand up. I gathered him back into my lap and he hid himself against my chest.

"Rick, I need you to be very honest to me. How much of what happened this morning was due to the paddlings I gave you this week?"

"What?" His head shot up. "No! It had nothing to do with it. I can't say I was ecstatic about the paddling and it did left me feeling a bit out of my element, but I'm guessing that was the purpose. It did not have anything to do with this morning!"

"Are you saying that if it wasn't for the paddling, you still would have felt the way you felt?"

"I don't know! It was a bit of revenge too. I don't know how to put this." He was clearly struggling; talking about emotions was not his forte. "It wasn't that I thought that you were being unfair or excessive. I just didn't like the fact that you were so relentless and controlled."

"And losing the case was the last straw." I more stated then asked.

He nodded. "I freaked out. It's been on my mind for a while. Actually from the very beginning, that if I give in to you, submitted to you, I might get too used to it and unable to hold my ground elsewhere. Loosing that case was like a confirmation of my worst fears." He looked me in the eye. "I know it's absurd. Losing the case had nothing to do with it, but I freaked out. Everything, all the emotions, the uncertainty, the conflict I was feeling burst out and I wanted blood." I was tracing his flanks with my arms all the while he was talking. I appreciated his effort, speaking so frankly was an enormous step for him, it was costing him a lot and I could read the struggle on his face.

"Thank you, beautiful."

"Wait! There is something else I need to tell you." He picked himself off my lap and stood in front of me, chewing at his lips.

"I know what you did for the military. I mean, your missions?" That got my eyebrows shooting up.

"My missions are not public knowledge," I stated cautiously. The missions I lead were not for general knowledge. Tactical intelligence, especially ones handled by special forces were under need-to-know restriction and there was a reason for that.

He flicked his hand, "I have my sources. I was the one that found you for the job." He finished cautiously and waited for my reaction.

"Ok?" I couldn't see where this was going.

"I want you to know that I respect you very much for what you did, your professional aptitudes for sure, but most importantly, for the fact that you were always able to make the difficult choices. I know it's not for the lack of compassion or understanding, you just know that someone must do the hard thing and you never expect anybody else to step in and do it." I was standing frozen, not willing to do anything to interrupt him. "I just want you to remember that this is what I really think about you. For the times when I will get vile again and say things I don't mean?" A hint of uncertainty in his voice. He was looking expectantly at me, waiting for me to say something.

I took a deep breath and traced my hand over my head. "Good thing I'm retired." I said with humor. "Otherwise I would have had to kill you." That cracked a smile on his face. "Tell me you didn't recommend me for the job because you thought I would be an interesting challenge."

"It would have been unprofessional." He said in outrage. "No! I just figured that since you were going to work for us, it would be fun to play with you. Especially, after I saw you in person. You were so incredibly hot standing there, in the hallway, studying me. Of course at that time I thought you were going to be just an awesome trophy. I was sure I was going to play with you, make you bend to me and then cast you aside. Only that never happened." He pouted a bit at that.

"You regret it?"

He shook his head and then tilted his head up to look at me once more. "You don't even know what effect you have on people, do you?" I raised an eyebrow in question. He came closer to me and entwined his armed around my middle. He looked up to be able to see my eyes. "You are so incredibly commanding. Don't think it's just me. Half of the female staff, and several of the men as well, are panting after you and the rest, much like most of the male stuff are intimidated by you, preferring to admire you from afar."

"I'm not intimidating." I sounded somewhat heated.

"Yeah, you are." He said with a Cheshire smile spreading on his face. "But in a nice way, you know? The way that sends tingles into your belly." He climbed on his toes to ask for a kiss and I gave it to him with passion.

He got serious again and looked at the paddle that was lying abandoned on the couch.

"Love, we don't have to do it tonight. Actually, I'm not sure it's right I punish you while I'm still a bit raw."

"Please, John? I can't wait." He pleaded.

"I'm not going to go easy on you, beautiful."

"I don't expect you to."

I moved to the couch and took seat. I put my hand out for him to approach me. He hurriedly got rid of his pants and underwear and came to lie over my lap. I brought down the paddle on his backside and he let out a loud hiss. Uncharacteristically he started to cry almost immediately, but fought to stay still. I brought the paddle down hard and fast, till he was panting and yelping in between the sobs. After a particularly hard smack he kicked his foot involuntarily and arched his spine backwards.

"Please, Johnny! I can't," he choked out. I knew what he was asking and I put my leg over his thighs to prevent him from kicking and held him tighter. I kept on paddling him till he was limp over my lap, sobbing continuously, breaking my heart. I let him lie like that, crying. I rubbed his back, trying to avoid touching his scorched bottom. Eventually, I picked him up into my arms and stood us up. He wrapped his legs around my waist and lay his head down on my shoulder as I took us both upstairs.

*****

I startled awake as soon as Rick shifted on my chest and let out a moan. I almost did not sleep at all during the night, unwilling to disturb Rick's sleep. He fell asleep still laying full length on me and during the night stayed mostly in the same position. He shifted slightly couple of times, every time his movements accompanied by a whimper or moan, that went straight to my heart. So I remained as still as possible, in order to not wake him up. I was a bit sore and numb from staying motionless all night long, but I didn't mind. Rick would be sore as hell after last night's paddling and I wanted him at least well rested. Rick stretched full length and let out a high pitched keen. He was awake. I dropped a kiss on the top of his head and he looked at me. His eyes and nose were still red and puffy from too much crying and long sleep.

"Are you still mad?" He rasped.

"Rick, love, why are you doing this to yourself?" I petted his head. "I was not mad with you even before I walked in the house last evening." I encircled him in my arms and dragged him up for a kiss. "Stop it, ok?" I hugged his head against my shoulder and rested my chin on his head. "Ah, baby, if only you could stop yourself before doing these stupid things, instead torturing yourself afterwards."

We stayed cuddled like that for a while. Reluctantly I started shifting Rick off me. "We need to get going angel. We already missed work yesterday."

He tightened his hold on me. "We don't have to go."

"Yes, baby, we do."

"No, we don't. I told Ed we will be taking a mini-vacation." He looked at me biting his lip. "They don't expect us in before Monday."

"Ed actually agreed to let you go in the middle of settlement negotiations with StarZone?" I asked incredulously.

"Lenny can handle it. It's almost a done deal, not much to do, really. And they are worried their golden boy will get sick from too much work and no fun, so they gladly accepted my demand. Not to mention, none of them would dare refuse me much, since I know not only their wives, but mistresses and love nests and love schedules. You get the idea." He said mischief sparkling in his eyes.

"You blackmailed Ed into giving us couple days off?" Why I was surprised by the news, I did not know.

"Nooooo." The green pools of his eyes became perfect circles. "It's all in their imagination. You know the most important thing in negotiation is not what you are prepared to do to obtain what you want, but what the other party thinks you are ready to do."

"Lord save me," I looked heavenwards, "it appears I gave my soul to the devil." His giggles came from somewhere between my arm and chest, where he was hiding his face.

"Love, look at me." My voice became serious. "How's the headache?"

He shrugged from where he was hiding. I gave him painkillers before settling for bed last night, in hopes to avoid the onset of one of his atrocious headaches as a result of the days' stressful events. "It's not so bad, mild actually." He looked up at me.

"Good." I kissed his forehead. "We still need to discuss something."

"The rest of my punishment?" He looked at me pitifully.

I sat us up, making sure to keep his bottom well off any surfaces, no matter hard or soft.

A fast kiss on his nose and I continued. "You are on probation, a month. The slightest violation of my trust, or attempt to do so and I'm going to cane you and then paddle you. You do not want to know how the combination of those two feels."

He grimaced. "We don't have a cane?" He said hopefully.

"We are going to buy one today. You will have the honor of choosing it." I could see the wheels moving in his head. I would not be surprised if I ended up with a candy cane as a result of letting him choose the cane, so I rapidly added, "from the models I will approve beforehand." His face fell comically. Another kiss to his nose. "It's not all. Until Monday you will exercise relinquishing the control."

He looked like he was chewing on lemon. "How?" He asked petulantly.

"Everything you do, absolutely everything, you will get my permission first, even going to bathroom."

"Johnnnnny!" His whine was close to panic and he looked at me pleadingly.

"I will not punish you for failure, but I expect you to try. Understand?" He gave me a very resigned nod, then fixed his eyes on me.

"Do I need your permission to speak?" There was something in his eyes, almost like a hope, but not for my denial, more like for a confirmation. I mentally kicked myself. How could I have not realized it until now? Speech was his most powerful weapon; as long as he had it he was never completely relinquishing the control. I have never tried it though, I needed to trade cautiously. I quickly made the decision.

"Yes, that too, but for now you can consider having that permission, until I tell you to remain silent."

He gave me a curt node, myriad of emotions passing over his face in a brief second. His eyes burst into tears that never fell. He rushed forward and hugged me, squeezing my chest with all his might.

"Come on." I untangled him from my body and kissed his lips slightly. "I'll make us some coffee and maybe sandwiches?"

He shook his head, no. "Horrible subs don't deserve being served coffee and food by their dominants." My breath hitched, he never called himself my submissive until now. Certain parts of my body reacted immediately to his words.

"I'll cook breakfast for you." He stood up and headed for bathroom. Completely different parts of my body reacted to that news, he was a fabulous cook.

*****

In the kitchen I dropped myself on a chair and watched him dance around the kitchen. He was making me scrambled eggs; the one with red bell pepper, onion, some sort of smoked meet and different herbs. It was heavenly and I was sipping my coffee, waiting patiently for my treat. He would turn around from time to time to steal glances at me, as if to make sure that I was still there. So I started to rumble about silly things and telling him how great it was to be home with him, how hot he looked and such else.

He put the plate in front of me and slid down to his knees. He settled against my leg and buried his nose into his coffee cup. For a moment I forgot about the food out of sheer surprise. He had never done this, I had never asked this of him. Kneeling was still somewhat a struggle for him, he only managed it after getting into that headspace.

My mind wondered to the events of the last week. I rubbed his head and back. The gesture as comforting to me as it was to him. I did not know what storms awaited us in future, but I was willing to face them all, for the moments like this, for the simple knowledge of this beautiful and powerful man belonging to me.

I picked up the fork and held it to his mouth. He looked at me, startled and conflicted. Eventually he opened his mouth and accepted the food.

~ Korusialhogi

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