Breaking the Ice
The sound of the wind’s fury was loud in Andrew’s ears as he stood at the kitchen window, looking out at the blizzard. His view was obscured by the swirling mass of white blowing against the glass, the barn and Quonset swallowed up completely. Alone and cut off from the outside world by the storm, left him feeling very odd, the sense of isolation overwhelming. He sighed deeply, bored and lonely with Rick stranded on his brother’s place five miles away. Glancing at the clock, he hoped that the storm would subside enough that the snowplow could clear the road soon.
Without warning, the room was thrown into relative darkness, the quiet hum of the refrigerator dying as the power cut out. Cursing, Andrew made his way across the unlit kitchen towards the cupboards and a flashlight. Losing the power was a common occurrence on the ranch in the winter and they were well-stocked with batteries and several flashlights. He fumbled through a drawer until he found a small torch and flipped it on. That’s what he got for feeling sorry for himself, he thought wryly, now it really would be boring, with no television or decent light to read by. And it might be hours, depending on the weather, before a crew could come out and fix the downed power line.
Using the flashlight to light his way out to the porch, he found the propane lantern and lit the mantle, sending out a soft yellow light. He went back to the kitchen, setting the lamp on the table. It would be good for several hours of less than perfect light. The incessant shriek of the wind was unnerving and he wished he could have turned on the television to drown it out. He felt a twinge of regret at not having gone with Rick to his brother’s, where most of his large family was gathering today. Still shy and tentative around his partner’s relatives, he had hesitated to join them and Rick had gone alone, understanding his reluctance. But even trying to make awkward conversation with Rick’s family would be better than sitting here in silent solitude.
Remembering that he hadn’t broken the ice on the dugout today, he automatically stood up to reach for his coat before appreciating his dilemma. The horses would be fine in the field no matter how long the storm lasted, they would eat the snow to quench their thirst and paw through it to reach the grass underneath. The cattle, dependent creatures that they were, would do neither of those things. They relied on the daily visits from the men, to smash the ice that formed on the dugout so they would have fresh water for drinking and to deliver bales of hay for their feed. But the storm most likely wouldn’t last much longer and Andrew considered the option that he should wait a bit, the cattle not being in any real need yet.
Going to the window again, he peered out into the bitter cold. It looked like the blizzard’s force was lessening and it wasn’t that far out to the field, he rationalized. He wouldn’t bother with the tractor since he was only going to break the ice, not feed the cattle. And if he took a horse it wouldn’t be more than a half hour to ride out, do what he had to and then ride back. He pushed aside the nagging doubt that it was a safe thing to do, his bored restlessness swaying the argument. With his decision made, he put on his heavy coat, hat and gloves.
The freezing wind tore his breath from him when he opened the door to step outside. For a moment he paused, reconsidering his choice as he felt the bitterness of the cold but he relished the chance to escape the lonely house, even for a while. Hunched over in the strong wind, he made his way slowly to the barn. His ears still whistling when he shut the door, he shook the snow off his jacket and stamped his feet. The horses that were kept for riding in the winter, all looked curiously at him from their stalls. Choosing Rick’s horse, King, because of his size and strength, he saddled him in the relative warmth of the barn.
Before leading the horse outside, Andrew picked up an axe handle from the barn to use on the ice. Out in the storm again, feeling the snow stinging his exposed face, he felt a moment of uneasiness at setting out alone but quickly pushed aside his misgivings once more. Swinging up into the saddle, he urged the horse towards the pasture. King gamely moved forward, stopping when he reached the gate and Andy slid from his back to open it, carefully latching it once they were through. Afraid of becoming disoriented in the blinding snow, Andrew followed the fence line until he reached the frozen watering-hole. There was no sign of the large herd of cattle and Andrew acknowledged they were most likely huddled together in the coulee, out of the wind. That they wouldn’t venture out to drink until after the storm was over was almost certain and he felt a bit foolish at being out there himself. That the cattle were smart enough to shelter out of harm’s way and he wasn’t, didn’t escape him. He decided right then that Rick didn’t really need to know he’d made the trip out to the field today.
He dismounted and walked quickly to the dugout; the flurry so heavy it was impossible to distinguish between the white ground and the snow-filled sky. Cold and anxious to return to the house in case Rick came home and found him gone, he took the long axe-handle in his gloved hand and swung it hard at the ice. The thickness was less than he anticipated and the frozen layer of water shattered immediately. Overbalancing, Andrew fell and slipped through the open hole in the ice and into the freezing water. Submerged to his chest, he gasped as the shock of the icy water stole his breath. The numbness from the intense cold was almost instantaneous and he was aware of the sensation seeping from his feet. Knowing how desperate his situation was, Andrew held onto the edge of the dugout and hauled himself out of the water, using all of his adrenaline-fueled strength. He felt his soaking clothes beginning to freeze as he lay on the snow-covered ground, panting with exertion and fear.
Stunned at how the circumstances had become so grim so fast, he struggled to his feet and staggered towards the horse. The powerful animal stood still as Andrew heaved himself into the saddle, “Go home, King,” he ordered through violently chattering teeth. Huddled against the horse, drawing as much heat from him as he could, he felt the gelding start instinctively towards the barn.
King stood patiently when they reached the gate, waiting for his rider to open it. His body wracked with brutal shaking, Andrew slid down from the saddle and wrested open the gate’s latch with fingers that had lost most of their feeling. Too weak and frozen to hoist himself onto the horse’s back again, he twined his fingers through his mane and leaned against his neck. Awkwardly, the man and the horse made their way the rest of the short distance home.
Beyond noticing, Andrew passed by the two trucks parked in the yard, only focusing on reaching the barn. Faint voices came from inside but their existence didn’t even register in Andrew’s confused mind. He opened the door and stumbled inside, the horse following him.
“Jesus Christ!” Andrew heard before he sank to his knees on the straw covered floor.
Strong hands grasped his shoulders and the familiar face of his partner swam in front of his eyes. “Andrew! What the hell happened?”
He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out by an agonized groan.
“Rick, come on,” came another voice, urgently demanding. “We have to get him to the house, where it’s warmer.”
“He’s soaking wet,” said Rick, in disbelief.
“Come on,” his brother urged, grabbing one of Andrew’s arms and lifting him to his feet. Quickly Rick took the other side and between them they half-carried, half-dragged the frozen man towards the house.
There was no time for niceties or modesty, Andrew was laid on the floor of the kitchen, and Don immediately began to strip off his ice-covered clothes. “Hurry up,” he barked at Rick. “Help me get his things off.” The semi-conscious Andrew was undressed as quickly as possible, his drenched clothes discarded in a heap. He lay bare and vulnerable on the floor, his temperature too low to even shiver. His body so stiff and his skin so colorless that he appeared virtually dead, he still found the energy to push ineffectively at his rescuers and slur, “Leave me alone.”
“Power’s out,” grunted Don, winded from exertion. “Check the furnace, Rick. If it’s on, turn it up.” He strode into the bathroom, returning with several large towels. Kneeling beside Andrew he began a gentle rub-down of his damp body, carefully watching for any patches of frostbite. When he got to Andrew’s hands he took them between his own, holding, but not rubbing them so he didn’t further damage the tissue if it had been frozen. Not able to understand, Andrew tried to wrest away from the older man’s caring touch. “Easy, Andy,” Don said firmly, not allowing him to pull away.
“The furnace is on,” confirmed Rick as he hurried back into the kitchen.
“Thank God,” said Don bluntly. “There’s no way to get him to the hospital with the roads like this.” Kneeling beside Andrew, he laid a warm, restraining hand on his freezing chest, thinking for an instant before issuing his orders, “Take off your shirt.”
“Your shirt,” he said impatiently. “Take it off. We have to raise his core temperature right away.”
Obeying his brother, Rick shed his coat and shirt. “Pants too,” Don said curtly.
Rick toed off his cowboy boots and stripped off his jeans, standing in his socks and boxers he waited for Don’s instructions. “Let’s bring him into the living room. I’ll light a fire. Be real gentle with him.” Rick bent down and picked up his naked partner from the floor. Carrying the sturdy young man in his arms, he struggled a bit with his awkward burden as he walked into the other room.
Don nodded towards the couch, “Sit down, I’ll get some blankets.”
Sitting on the couch, Rick arranged Andrew so he was cradled against his muscular chest, hissing as his lover’s frozen skin came in full contact with his own. Christ, it was like holding a block of ice, Rick thought, his heart pounding with fear. He held him closely in his arms, willing his own body heat to pass to the icy man he held. An incoherent protest escaped from Andrew as Don tucked several quilts around both of them. He tossed his head restlessly and struggled weakly in Rick’s arms, trying to dislodge the blankets. Rick whispered in his ear, “You’re okay. I’m right here.” The familiar tone penetrated his foggy mind and Andrew stilled in response to his partner’s voice, his agitated moans fading to softer whimpers.
Swaddled in blankets, the two men were left in front of a glowing fire as Don went back to the kitchen to heat some water on the gas stove. He returned a few minutes later, with a mug of sweetened, steaming milk in his hands and a full hot water bottle. “Sit him up,” he ordered. Rick turned his partner and sat him upright, his back propped against his own chest. Don tucked the wrapped hot water bottle under the quilts, placing it on Andrew’s groin and held the cup to his mouth, “It’s not too hot. Go ahead and drink a bit.” Not liking the unfamiliar taste, Andrew turned his head away, spilling the liquid down his chin. Cupping the back of his head with one hand, Don brought the mug to Andrew’s blue lips again. “Drink it,” he insisted. When he tried to push away the cup, Rick held his wrists, gently restraining him.
“Shouldn’t we put him in a warm bath?” Rick asked anxiously, watching his brother force-feed Andrew the hot drink.
“No,” replied Don. “He’s too cold for that, he needs to be warmed up slow. It’s bad for his heart if it happens too quickly.” A volunteer firefighter for years, he was familiar with first aid procedures and hypothermia was always something rescuers were aware of in such a cold climate.
The circulation returning to his numb hands and feet was excruciating. Biting his lip against the intense burning sensations, Andrew tried to stifle his cries of pain.
“Poor kid. Hurts like hell, doesn’t it?” sympathized Don, reaching under the quilts to check Andrew’s feet. “He’s lucky. Looks like he’s going to keep all his toes.” The skin of his hands and feet were already turning bright red and swelling slightly.
When he’d got all the liquid down Andrew’s throat, Don looked him over anxiously and said, “He’s not shivering. We’re going to have to try for the hospital if we can’t get him warmer.” Rick searched his brother’s face apprehensively, it was a good twenty miles to town, on roads that hadn’t been plowed, it was a dangerous proposition
Don hurried up the stairs to look for another hot water bottle; his boots could be heard pounding the floorboards as he searched the upstairs. He was back in a few minutes with it wrapped in a towel. When he went to place it on Andrew’s chest, he saw his brother was now shivering with cold from holding his freezing partner. Stripping off his own shirt, he sat down on the couch and held out his arms, “Give him to me for a minute,” he ordered. Rick hesitated, feeling an overpowering need to hold Andrew.
“Just for a minute,” Don gently reassured him. “Until you warm yourself up.”
Reluctantly, Rick obeyed, placing Andrew carefully in Don’s arms, he tucked the quilts around the two men. “Get yourself a hot drink,” Don instructed, “And wrap yourself up in a blanket in front of the fire.”
Mechanically, Rick minded his brother, his shivering easing quickly as his body temperature rose again. Sitting in front of the fire, he watched anxiously as Andrew began to protest his confinement. Warming as he absorbed Don’s body heat, he started to shiver and become more alert. Still very confused, he expressed his displeasure in a continuous stream of disjointed profanity and increasingly frantic struggles. Speaking kindly but firmly, Don held him in a tight grip and said, “Stop that. Lay still and be a good boy.” Amazingly, Andrew responded and subsided against Don’s chest with a frustrated sob.
“Okay, come take him back,” said Don calmly, a few minutes later.
Rick lifted his partner to cradle him against his own chest again. He could feel the hot moisture on his neck as Andrew cried, shaking with silent tears. Rocking him, he murmured comforting words, trying to ease his misery.
“I’m going out to the barn,” said Don, coming over to rub Andrew’s back for a moment in compassion. “I need to unsaddle King.” He shrugged his heavy jacket on and paused at the doorway. “Keep him as quiet as you can. He’s going to be okay, Rick.”
“I know,” he answered softly. “Thanks.”
Finally, the violent shivering eased and Andrew lay still in his arms, exhausted from his ordeal. Warm at last, he drifted off to sleep under the heavy layer of blankets, safe in Rick’s embrace. When he woke he was dimly aware of several voices, quietly conversing. Abruptly and with great horror he realized he wasn’t wearing any clothes.
“Rick,” he hissed urgently. “I’m naked.”
“Andrew?” overjoyed his partner was awake and coherent, he studied his face closely and asked him, “How do you feel?”
“My feet hurt like fuck,” he admitted. He heard a discreet cough and turned to look around the room. Rick’s father, Don and two of his other brother’s were seated in their living room, all looking at him with open concern. Mortified to find himself, sitting unclothed in his partner’s arms, in front of half of his family, he ducked his head back down, hiding his face against Rick’s neck. If he hadn’t been nude he would have fled the room.
“I’m going to call again to see if the road to town is open. Andrew will need to go to the hospital to get checked over,” Don said, picking up the phone.
“No,” protested Andrew vehemently. “I’m fine.” Clutching a blanket around his shoulders, he tried to rise off Rick’s lap without exposing himself. A strong arm reached around his waist, thwarting his efforts.
“Good news,” Don reported, ignoring Andrew’s argument. “The snowplow’s been through. You should make it no problem.”
“Here,” his father said gruffly, crossing the room to stand over the two young men. “You go get some clothes on, Rick. And get some for Andy too.” He bent down, gathering the blankets tightly around Andrew; he lifted him off Rick’s lap and held him as his partner slid out from under him. Standing up, Rick immediately stretched; his muscles stiff from sitting in one position for so long under his partner’s weight. Clad only in his underwear, he walked to the stairs, not self-conscious at all in front of his father and brothers.
Gently, Joe lowered Andrew, who was squirming in his grip, onto the couch, and took a seat beside him.
The conversation drifted quietly, centering on the blizzard and its possible effects on the cattle. Not able to pay attention, desperately trying to make sense of the fragments of memories churning in his mind, Andrew let the discussion wash over him. He remembered going to the dugout and the fall into the freezing water but after that it was all a blur.
He looked up as Rick returned, dressed in jeans and sweater, clothes for him bunched in his hand. The men stood, gathering up their coats, getting ready to leave. “Rick, I’ll drive you and Andy to the hospital,” said his father, his tone indicating there would be no disagreement. “Ethan and Ted can catch a ride back with Don to his place.”
The three younger men shrugged their jackets on, and went to the door to leave. “Don?” Andrew said quietly. Crossing the room to stand in front of Andrew, Don looked at him inquiringly. Andrew frowned in confusion, knowing somehow that Rick’s brother had helped him but his mind was a mixed up jumble of memories so he said simply, “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome, Andy. I’m glad you’re all right,” he replied solemnly.
Flushed with shame, Andrew looked down and nodded. Seeing his discomfort, Don sat beside him on the couch for a moment and asked gently, “How did you get wet, Andy? Do you remember?”
“I fell in the dugout,” he muttered, cringing at what the older man would say about such negligence. “Breaking the ice.”
But Don just shook his head, caught between outright dismay at the young man’s recklessness and grudging admiration that he’d made it home alive, “You’re a tough little bastard, I’ll give you that. Don’t be falling in any more puddles, little boy. At least, not in winter.” He patted his shoulder and gave a snort of reluctant amusement.
It sounded callous on the surface but Don was offering Andrew a way out of his shame and he joined in the other man’s laughter. “I won’t,” he assured him, the heavy weight on his chest lifting a bit.
When Rick’s father went out to warm up his truck, Rick helped Andrew dress, gently pulling socks over his throbbing, swollen feet. It was impossible for him to wear boots so Rick swung him up into his arms and carried him out to the waiting truck. The ride into town was quiet, the three men all still preoccupied by what could have happened.
Once the doctor on call had arrived at the emergency room, the hospital visit was mercifully short. After Rick explained the circumstances, Andrew’s lips remaining stubbornly sealed, he carefully checked Andrew’s heart before moving on to the less important matter of his feet and hands. Several small blisters were forming on his fingers and toes but the tissue damage was minor and the doctor gave him instructions on avoiding damaging them further.
Still exhausted, Andrew fell back asleep on the drive home. Joe gave his son a meaningful glance, nodding towards the young man sleeping against him. “You’re going to have to get him to be a bit more careful, Rick. He’s got a fondness for disaster, that one.” His wry smile took the sting out of his words but Rick could hear the gravity in his warning.
“Yes, sir,” he answered softly, tightening his hold on his sleeping lover.
Finally alone at home, Rick put Andrew to bed, quickly following as his own exhaustion overcame him. When he woke the next morning, he could hear his partner quietly swearing as he limped around the bedroom, getting dressed. “I’m going out to the barn to start the chores,” Andrew said through teeth gritted in discomfort.
“No,” said Rick simply, getting out of bed. “You’ll be staying inside today. You can’t afford to get your feet and hands cold.”
“That’s ridiculous, I’m fine,” Andrew insisted, waving a dismissive hand and heading towards the bedroom door.
“Come here,” Rick ordered sharply.
Andrew turned towards his partner, his face showing his surprise, “Why?”
“Because you and I are going to get a few things straight. Right now,” said Rick firmly.
Approaching Rick, Andrew spread his arms in annoyance, “What’s wrong? I’ll wear gloves and boots, for Christ’s sake.”
Rick grasped the other man’s arm in a strong grip and rested his other hand on his jean-clad bottom. “Is that your decision to make?” he asked.
“Rick!” he exclaimed, squirming nervously. “I’m just going to do the chores.”
Bringing his hand down hard, he gave a resounding swat to each cheek. “Is that your decision?” he repeated implacably.
“But Rick,” he protested, his tone becoming less confident.
“Is it?” demanded Rick, his hand descending again, a sound spank to each cheek.
“No,” Andrew finally admitted uncertainly, twisting in earnest to try to remove his bottom from harm’s way.
“No, it’s not,” answered Rick, his expression grim. “I’m going to tell you exactly what’s going to happen today. You are going to work on the accounts,” he was interrupted by a sputtered refusal from his partner and he bent the protesting man over his hip to deliver several hard swats. “As I said, you’re going to do the accounts,” he continued. “I’ll do the outside chores. When I’m done, you and I are going to sit down and talk about yesterday. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” gasped Andrew, shocked at how determined his partner sounded. When he was allowed up, he rubbed his tingling backside, looking at Rick through dazed eyes. But Rick didn’t comment further, heading into the bathroom to start his shower.
Starving, Andrew obeyed his rumbling stomach and went to the kitchen to start breakfast. Both men had missed supper the night before so he pulled out eggs and bacon from the refrigerator, knowing Rick would appreciate a hot breakfast. He couldn’t help but be unnerved by Rick’s promise of a discussion; having hoped the whole thing would somehow blow over if he didn’t bring it up.
Sitting at the table, both men eating in famished silence, Andrew cast covert glances at his partner, watching for any softening in his attitude. But after the breakfast dishes had been cleared, the ranch accounts had been determinedly placed on the table and Rick pulled out a chair, nodding for Andrew to have a seat.
He loathed doing the accounts and distracted by his troubling thoughts, it took forever for Andrew to make any real progress. The window drew his yearning looks as he sat in the kitchen, longing to be outside with Rick. A couple of hours passed slowly by before Rick returned, his handsome face ruddy from the cold air. Nervously, Andrew bent his head over the paperwork, trying to focus on the numbers swimming in front of his eyes.
Finally the pencil was plucked from his fingers and a cup of coffee was placed in front of him. Rick sat down at the table to recount his morning trip out to check on the cattle. They had been waiting for him at the usual spot where he delivered the hay, none-the-worse-for-wear for having weathered the storm. He’d done a rough count and to his relief there didn’t seem to be any missing. If it had been later in the year, closer to calving time, they could have endured heavy losses.
Having relaxed a bit listening to Rick talk, Andrew looked up in surprise when his partner stood up and held out a hand to him. “Let’s go into the living room,” Rick said easily.
Reluctantly placing his work-roughened hand in the other man’s equally calloused one, Andrew got to his feet. Trying not to obviously limp, he let himself be led to the couch, his stomach already twisting with nerves.
Sitting down on the soft couch, Rick waited until Andrew was settled beside him before quietly asking, “What happened yesterday?”
Not wanting to think about it, much less talk about it, Andrew looked away, shaking his head in a silent refusal.
His chin was grasped in a firm grip and lifted, his eyes caught in an unyielding gaze. Rick saw the brief flash of fear, at the remembrance of yesterday, in Andrew’s eyes before he was able to push those feelings back down, his expression shuttered again. As sympathetic as Rick was to his partner’s distress, he knew it wouldn’t do him any good to suppress those feelings. “We’re talking about it, Andy. We’re going to sit here all day if that’s what it takes.”
Sighing heavily, Andrew recognized the truth of those words and began, “I went to break the ice, so the cattle could drink.”
“During the storm?” asked Rick. “Did you think maybe that wasn’t such a good idea?”
Well, actually he’d thought that several times but it didn’t seem prudent to admit that out loud so Andrew just shrugged noncommittally.
“Andrew, answer me,” Rick demanded.
Knowing a lie would be spotted at once, Andrew unwillingly said, “Maybe?”
“Haven’t we talked about this, Andy? How important it is to listen to your own good common sense?” said Rick, not even trying to mask the exasperation in his voice.
“Yes,” Andrew whispered, ducking his head in shame, before feeling an obligation to defend himself. “But the cattle needed water.”
“Right then?” demanded Rick. “They needed water during the storm?”
Picking up a cushion off the couch to fidget with, Andrew said hopefully, “Yes?”
“Andrew,” growled Rick in warning. “Don’t feed me that bullshit.”
His nerves unraveling, Andrew’s pathetic attempt at defense crumbled and the truth came tumbling out. “But I was all alone. And the power went out. And it was boring,” he tried to explain, his voice rising in agitation.
“You went out into a raging blizzard because you were bored?” asked Rick incredulously.
That didn’t sound good thought Andrew and he frowned and tried again, “No, that’s not what I meant. I just….” He trailed off, not really having a good justification.
Rick shook his head, “It’s our responsibility to take care of our stock, Andrew. But not at the risk of killing ourselves, especially when it wasn’t at all necessary. No one knew you were out there. If you hadn’t made it home, you’d have died out in the field. I wouldn’t have even known where to look for you. And breaking the ice, like that. I don’t see how you could have fallen in if you were being at all careful. You are going to learn to listen to your voice of reason,” he said grimly. “If it means I bend you over my knee every time you don’t, so be it.”
Oh Jesus, he said it out loud, Andrew lamented, his fate sealed by Rick’s words. The reality of a coming spanking hitting hard, Andrew squirmed in apprehension. “I’ll remember next time,” he promised fervently. “It won’t happen again.”
“I hope not, Andy,” said Rick seriously. “I really do. Do you know how scared I was when I got home and you weren’t here? And then when you came into the barn, half-frozen like that?” He inhaled and let out a shaky breath, trying to control his emotions. “I thought you were going to die right there in my arms.”
Not remembering any of that part, Andrew’s eyes filled with tears of remorse, “I’m sorry,” he said softly.
‘I know, sweetheart. I do know that,” Rick assured him. “I don’t want either of us to go through something like this again.” Standing up, he went into the adjoining dining room, coming back with the small paddle in his hand.
“Rick,” Andrew begged, his bottom already clenching in anticipation. “No.”
“Come on,’ Rick said firmly, gesturing for him to get up. “Don’t make it any worse.”
Slowly, Andrew got to his feet, his shaking hands moving to his belt buckle. “Rick,” he pleaded again but his hands were merely replaced by his partner’s, who did a much more efficient job of undoing the fastening of his belt and jeans. Sitting down on the couch, Rick drew Andrew to stand between his strong thighs, quickly pulling down his jeans and shorts. Not exactly obliging but not actively struggling, Andrew was turned over his partner’s lap, his pleas ignored. “Why are we doing this?” asked Rick, his hand resting on Andrew’s thigh.
“I’m sorry. I am,” Andrew insisted. “Please.”
“Why are we doing this?” repeated Rick, not swayed by his partner’s appeals.
Finally, Andrew choked out, incoherently, “Because I should have listened to myself.”
Accepting that Andrew knew what he did wrong, Rick brought his hand down hard. A handprint immediately bloomed on Andrew’s smooth right cheek and he kicked in protest. Soon his entire bottom was covered in red blotches that quickly melded into an overall crimson color. His emotions still in turmoil from his trial the previous day, Andrew couldn’t remain stoic for this punishment. Sobbing from the start, his cries escalated to wails when Rick switched to the paddle. It was a serious spanking and by the end Andrew was gasping with sobs.
He squirmed off Rick’s lap and knelt on the floor, burying his face against his partner’s leg. When he was a little calmer, Rick pulled him up onto the couch and into his arms so he could finish comforting him. All the emotions of yesterday came rushing back, the fear he’d felt at finding himself, alone and wet out in the bitter cold overwhelmed Andrew and he wept for a long time. Finally the tears slowed and his cries died down to hiccoughs. Arranging Andrew face down on the couch, Rick reached for a blanket to cover him with. He flipped on the television and left his partner to further think things through.
Rick wasn’t surprised when Andrew came to find him in the kitchen a short time later. Assembling lunch at the counter, he felt two strong arms encircle his waist and the weight of his partner snuggled against his back. “I am sorry,” Andrew said softly. He didn’t want Rick to think his previous apology had been prompted solely from trying to escape being punished.
“I know,” said Rick simply, continuing to make sandwiches. Turning around, he held Andrew in a tight embrace for a moment before kissing him soundly.
“I love you,” Andrew whispered, laying his head on Rick’s strong shoulder.
Hearing the wistful note in his partner’s voice, Rick kissed him thoroughly again. “I love you too,” he said, his tone leaving no doubt.
“Is your family mad at me?” asked Andrew tentatively. “All that trouble…” he drifted off.
“No,” Rick assured him. “They’re not mad. They were worried about you, Andy. That’s what families do.”
Andrew nodded, accepting the certainty of Rick’s words. “Next time I’ll just go with you,” he grunted. “Probably safer that way.”
“That would be good,” said Rick, pleased at Andrew’s willingness to accompany him, especially after yesterday.
“Yeah, well,” Andrew said, still feeling awkward. “Your mom’s a great cook.”
“She is that.” Turning to finish making lunch, Rick bragged smugly, “I learned from the best.”
Snorting with amused disgust, Andrew sat down gingerly at the table to wait for his lunch.