“Hansie, why is my dinner in the microwave?”
“Because I called you three times, twice you told me that you would be down directly, hey? And the third time I decided I would wait no longer. I have had mine.”
“Oh. Sorry. I was just. . .”
“I saw what you were doing. Playing cards on the computer. Again.”
“I. . . I just wanted to make that last game come out. I was nearly there.”
“Ja wel no fine. Enjoy the cold gravy.”
“Ecch. No, no, all right, I’ll eat it.”
“Ja, you will.”
“Tim, why have I been sitting alone all night while you are gambling on that vervloek computer again?”
“It isn’t gambling Hansie, I keep explaining, it’s just a game of Free Cell.”
“It looks like bleddy gambling to me, man. The Devil’s Picture Book, my father used to call them.”
“Yes, well, let’s not get into your father and what he thought about matters.”
“I think you are addicted.”
“I’m not addicted. It’s just the pleasure of logically working out the permutations.”
He pursed his lips, shook his head, and went away again. I wondered briefly if I should go after him, but then I realised I could make the game come out if I just moved the sequence beginning with the 7 of hearts onto the 8 of clubs. I'd make it up to him tomorrow. . .
“Come in here a minute, my liefie,” Hansie called from the living room.
My hair still damp from the shower I bounced in – and came up short. There seemed to be – there were – some alarming implements sitting on the little stool by the big sofa. A leather paddle. A wooden spoon. A large and grubby plimsoll with a worn sole and a hole in the heel. And a cane.
“Um, Hansie, I. . .”
“Now, we are going to have a little game,” he announced with a wicked gleam in his eye, and produced a pack of cards from his back pocket.
“Um, wouldn’t it be much nicer to have a quiet evening together, glass of wine, listen to some music?”
“No, I think it will be much nicer to play as I have in mind. And you like playing cards so much, Tim, that I am sure you will like this.”
The attractions of cards seemed extremely theoretical at that moment. Besides, I don't even like playing Snap, and Mary and Jim's whist drives had always bored me to tears. His eyes fixed mockingly on me, Hansie split the pack, shuffled the two halves together with a riffling snap. For someone who didn’t approve of gambling he did that very professionally.
“So, this is what you will do, hey? Cut the pack and pick a card. If it is hearts, you will get the spoon. Clubs, that is the takkie, and spades, paddle. And if it is diamonds. . .”
“The cane. I get it.” I pulled a face. “And the number of the card is the number of strokes.” I had done something similar once or twice, long ago and in what seemed like – was – a different life.
“Mm, up to a point. If it is the 3, 4, or 5 we double, because less than six is hardly worth giving, ja nee? And if it is 2, then you draw again, and we double the value of the second card. And the jack, that is 12, the queen 14, the king 15, and the ace, that is 18.”
“Eighteen! So if I get a 2 followed by the ace of diamonds. . .?”
“You do not sit down for a while.”
“Hansie, this isn't – we don’t have to do this. A spanking, maybe, but not this.”
“Oh but we do have to do this. I say so. And even if we don’t. . .”
will be fun.”
“Fun for me. Now pick a card, boy, and don't keep me waiting or I'll spank you beforehand so hard your teeth rattle.”
There was a snap to the last that sent a shiver of delight and fear through me, and I could almost swear that those brown eyes gleamed green like a cat's for a moment. A trick of the light, reflecting off the curtains. I picked up the pack, face down, split it, and turned up the card whose back was revealed.
Five of spades.
Ten strokes of the paddle, then. Not exactly a stroll in the park, especially the way Hansie had been known to lay them on, but survivable. I sighed.
“Where do you want me?”
“Right here. Pick again.”
“Hey, that's not fair, I thought you were going to give me what the cards turned up? You can't make me choose again just because you don't think it's enough.”
“Ach, it will be enough, I promise you. But did I say you would only pick once? Pick again.”
“Hang on, how many cards am I going to have to pick?”
“Hmm, let me see, how many times have I had to tell you about this gambling addiction of yours lately?”
“It isn't gambling. And once or twice is all.”
“At least five times. But five is an awkward number, ja nee? So let us say six. That is good and traditional in these matters.”
“Six cards! That's not fair.”
“No, it is not, and I will add more if you don't stop arguing and do as I tell you.”
“Well. . .” who the fuck died and made you the boss around here, I started to say, but then I thought better of it. He'd coped amazingly well through all the unfinished business between me and Phil, the implosion and reconstruction of large parts of his – our – home-made Family, but the last few months hadn't been easy for him, and I thought lately to catch a hint – more than a hint, sometimes – of anxiety, even neediness. If he wanted or needed to assert his rights, well I owed him that. And to tell the truth the idea of putting my fate in the hands of random chance – or the Devil and his picture book – was quite exciting. Still, six cards? That was, well, challenging.
Ruefully, I picked again, laid it beside the 5 of spades. The 3 of hearts, and I hate that wooden spoon, it stings awfully. The 10 of spades – a further dose of the paddle, then. Then I drew the two of hearts, and not without a few qualms, drew again to reveal the jack of clubs. That meant 24 wallops with that heavy rubber-soled plimsoll, Hansie's beloved takkie, and Tim was not going to be sitting comfortably tonight. I looked at him with an implicit 'can we not stop there?' and saw no sympathy whatsoever.
“Two more,” he pointed out, comfortably.
I pulled a face, which got me a faint grin and an admonitory finger wag. Well, I supposed I had better go for it. I picked two cards in rapid succession. Five of diamonds. And queen of diamonds. Sod it, I had been hoping I might avoid the cane altogether, and here was two dozen just to round off the evening. It all added up rather, even given that we like to play quite hard. Did I say ‘challenging’? Read ‘alarming’.
“So, boy, are you ready to have your arse dealt with?”
Um, no? On the other hand, will he think I don't want to play at all if I say that? Let's see how it goes. It isn't a real punishment, so I can always safeword if I have to. . .
. . .“Hnnghah!”
“And that is twenty four.” He threw the cane down, ran a proprietorial hand over the fiery furnace that was my backside. He had been very restrained with the cane, apart from the last four strokes, but I'd near as damn it safeworded two thirds of the way through the plimsoll whacking. I think he worries about overdoing it with the more severe implements, but with the slipper or those big hands of his he's inclined to lay it on with a will, and my arse was throbbing with the consequences.
I made to get up from my position over the back of the armchair. It's a wee bit low for Hansie, who has longer legs than me, but we've discovered that it's just the right height for me to bend over, and it's solid enough to give support even when Hansie is letting rip. A gentle touch sent me back into the embrace of the cushions.
“Don't rise yet, my liefie. Allow me to enjoy this pretty sunset scene a little longer.” His hands roamed gently across my cheeks, just the edges of his fingernails tracing the hot, swollen skin. I felt myself shiver involuntarily with pleasure, my back arching in response, heard his excited intake of breath and the rustle as he dropped his trousers. . .
Work was mad at the moment. The season was well advanced, and going quite well, and on top of that I'd been selected for the last two Six Nations matches, although I'd missed the first few (including the Murrayfield disaster, thank God) due to a bout of flu and then a shoulder strain – nothing very severe, but enough to put me out of the running for international duties. Several recent Friday night get-togethers had had to be rescheduled or cancelled. So slipping out for lunch with an old friend, even if I couldn't actually indulge in anything naughtier than an omelette and salad, seemed a very pleasant idea.
I got to the café first, as it happened, and had already bagged a table in a sunny corner when he came in.
“Hey, Tim, over here!”
“Hi, Phil.” He offered me his hand – all very proper in public. I noticed him wince as he sat. He noticed me noticing, gave a wry smile.
“Someone been a naughty boy?”
“Just play. Rather a lot of play.”
“As long as you're enjoying it.”
“Oh yes, it's fine, all fine,” he said, all bright and cheery and false as a nine-pound note. “Have you ordered already?”
“I think I might just have a toasted sandwich, we're having a chicken casserole tonight.”
“All fine? Come off it, mate, you know you're hopeless at fibbing.”
“It's not. . .” he began, then broke off as the waitress came to take our orders. When she had gone he leaned forward conspiratorially.
“It's not that we're – that anything bad is happening in our relationship,” he said quietly. “The reverse, if anything. It's just, well Hansie is a bit needy at the moment. And it seems that he's decided that what he needs is to play. To show who's boss. And to – well, you know, afterwards he wants sex. Lots of sex. Every night this week. I'm worn out. And sore as hell.”
I felt a huge grin forming on my face.
“You? Tired of too much sex and spanking? Come on, imposter, tell me what you've done with the real Tim.”
He made a rude gesture, which I took for what it was worth. “Very funny, you unsympathetic sod. I'm well aware of how it sounds, but believe me, in his present mood Hansie's like a man possessed.”
“Well why don't you just suggest something else?”
He pulled a face. “I don't want to – to seem as if I'm pushing him away. He needs something from me, Phil, and he deserves to get it, after recent – well, after how things have been.”
That sobered me right away. Tim and I, in our various ways, had done quite a bit of damage. I'm not beating myself up about it, and the damage was to ourselves as much as anyone, but I had to recognise the basic fact. Still. . .
“I know you'll do anything for him. But are you sure you're giving him what he needs?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don't – know, exactly,” I admitted. “Just, maybe, there's something here that doesn't quite feel right.” I shrugged. “I'm probably talking out of my arse, he's your partner. You saw something in him at the very beginning, something other people couldn't see, and you brought it out of him, so you're probably right about this, too.”
“No, Phil, if I've learned anything it's to listen when you feel something. You know Hansie. And you know hearts.” I admit, I got a huge charge out of that, and I patted his knee in appreciation.
He grinned back at me suddenly, that lightning grin that lights up his whole face and makes something inside you dance in response. “If Piet and Hansie were here they'd be on our case again about mutual admiration societies. But seriously, do you think I've misunderstood the problem? I thought Hansie needed to be sure of me. Show me I was his, the way you're Piet's.”
“But. . .” I could feel the shape of it, I just struggled to find the words. “You aren't though, exactly, are you? I mean, your relationship isn't quite the same as ours? Can't be. You didn't start off from the same place.”
Tim stared at me, mouth open, for a moment. “Fuck,” he said. “Of course, that's it. Phil, you are sodding brilliant.”
“I am? What did I say?”
“That I'm going at this from precisely the wrong direction.”
“Oh. Oh.” I didn't really see what he meant, but he seemed happy. “Yeah, well, whatever. If you say I'm brilliant, I must be. As well as gorgeous, of course.”
“And very, very vain. You forgot that bit.” There would have been a time when I wouldn't have noticed the twinkle that took any sting from that comment. As it was, I simply shrugged.
“I'd call it a proper appreciation of my good points, personally. Are you going to eat that tomato?”
“Have it, by all means. Damn, how could I have missed this?”
“Well, not everyone can be as brilliant as me.”
“I'm going to regret saying that, I can see. You wait until the next time I get you over my knee. Then we'll see how brilliantly your arse can glow.”
“Promises, promises. . .” And I stuck my tongue out at him. No-one said brilliant excluded childish, did they?
“Mm. That smells lekker, my liefie.”
“Soup from the ham stock. I know you had something earlier, but I thought you might want something hot when you got in, seeing as it's turned cold.”
His smile turned into a frank leer.
“Ja, I have something hot in mind, all right.”
“Oh, Hansie.” I swear I didn't mean that to come out all coy and flirtatious, nor did I intend to look down and blush. It was just the way he was looking at me, which was probably illegal in several jurisdictions. That and the fact that he was still in mud-stained rugby kit, with a smudge of white from the touchline on one high cheekbone.
“What happened – problems with the showers?”
“Not – exactly. No, I had it mind to make you kneel in front of me and remove my kit item by item, and then lick me clean from head to toe.”
“Did you now?”
“I did. And to spank you for each time you seemed to be slacking in your duties.”
Actually, that sounded. . . but no. Regretfully.
I'm not sure if anyone else would have seen the flicker of – panic? Perhaps not quite that bad, but uncertainty, at any rate – that skated across his face.
“You are defying me?” Harsh, now, trying to hide whatever it was that was going through his head.
I swaggered up to him, admiring the breadth of his chest as it rose and fell. A war horse. If Phil is the pinnacle of his breed, a modern cross, a genetic miracle of speed and power and stamina, blood and beauty, Hansie is a throw-back, the sort of massive stallion that would have carried a knight in all his armour into the blood and screaming and iron of the melée, hooves flying.
“No, Hansie. I'm claiming you.”
A blink. That, he hadn't expected.
“Oh I'm yours, all right, I'll always be yours, to take and to have and to hold. But I think it's time you remembered that there's another side to me.” I reached out both arms to his shoulders, pressed down. Not hard. I couldn't force him down by main strength in a million years. But the strength of muscle and bone isn't the only sort of strength. As I smiled at him something in his expression, something that neither of us had even realised was there, taut as a violin string, suddenly relaxed, and he went to his knees before me.
I smiled down at him, cupped his cheek.
“Better, Johannes Christiaan van den Broek. Much better. Because, Hansie, my darling love, you are also mine, and need to be reminded of it. Don't you?”
He looked up at me, eyes wide. I saw him swallow quickly.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
“Yes, sir. And what happens to boys who skip the showers after practice?”
“They get thrown under a cold shower.” Totally open, guileless, eyes innocent as a choirboy, and the bastard knew perfectly well that wasn't the answer I wanted.
“Sometimes, Hansie. Sometimes. And sometimes they then get caned wet.”
And now it was his turn to pull a face – that prospect was obviously not one he relished.
“Now that I think about it, perhaps a dozen over wet shorts might be suitable. . .”
“Ach, Timmie, no. . .”
“I beg your pardon?” I let my voice sharpen just a little. He looked down, mumbling something incomprehensible. If he balked one more time I would cane him wet, and then he’d be sorry.
“Go and fetch me the cane, Hansie.” He knew just how far he could push me, because he was back in double quick time.
“Good. Now go and bend over the back of the chair.” As I said it's a wee bit low to be entirely comfortable for him, but if he widens his legs suitably it's quite doable, and presents the solid muscle of his arse at a convenient height for me. And he wouldn't be worried about his thighs and calves being uncomfortable for long, because I intended to make him a lot more uncomfortable somewhere else.
I swished the cane through the air. “What goes around, comes around. A dozen over your shorts, I think, and then we'll have them down for another dozen.”
“Yes, sir.” Quietly.
I didn't overdo it. Just enough to let him know that my intent was serious. But the cane is a cumulative thing, and I knew he was feeling it by the end of the first dozen.
“Shorts down, and back in position.” He complied, a little stiffly. There were a nice set of deep pink lines across the white flesh, as if it had been griddled. Just one place where two had landed almost on top of each other where it was a little pale and puffy. I'd have to avoid that spot, I didn't want to break the skin with the second set.
I gave him the first one and the last one hard, so he'd be wearing my mark in the morning. The rest were – just enough to have him grunting and shifting. And then it was done.
“Good, Hansie. Very good.” I took an arm, urged him up. He looked down at me.
“And now?” he asked finally, tentative. I knew he was thinking of those six cards, wondering if I was going to put him through another five sets. I pretended to think.
“And now,” I said. “I think. . .” I let the moment stretch as long as I dared, enjoying the bulk and the warmth of him: big, grubby, sweaty; all male, and all mine. “I think that I am going to remove your kit, one piece at a time, and take you into the shower and very, very slowly soap you clean. And then I’m going to dirty you up again. I hope you’re ready to be ridden hard and put away wet.” My hands slipped under his rugby shirt and into the waistband of his shorts as I spoke, felt him respond to the words, to my fingers touching the places where he lived. . .
“Ach, Timmie. Ach, Timmie!”
We never did get around to the soup.
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