A huge thank you to JL and Rowan for beta reading this, as well as for all their support and encouragement!
“What did I say would happen the next time you lied?” Rezo asked as he turned the car onto the main road.
Oren blinked, dragging himself out of his thoughts. “What?”
Rezo’s eyes flickered toward Oren before returning to the road. “So you don’t remember the part about the paddle.”
Oren looked at him, stunned. “I didn’t lie.”
Oren turned his head to follow the scenery outside the window. The roadside was littered with the speckled flowers from the Idwal-Chroma House, the ones he still didn’t know the name of. He closed his eyes to shut them out.
“That’s not realistic,” Oren said, his voice tighter than he intended it to be. “You can’t expect me to report everything I do to you—or else.”
“You know that’s not—”
“Maybe I would have told you if I thought you’d be open-minded about it. Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”
Rezo was silent for long enough that Oren risked a glance at him. His mouth was pressed into a grim line.
“And you don’t think you did anything wrong?” Rezo said finally.
Obviously he’d done something wrong. Lots of things wrong. That was never a question. Oren let out an explosive huff and slid down in his seat.
“I meant in general,” Oren mumbled.
Neither of them spoke for several minutes as they drove.
Occasionally he felt Rezo’s eyes on him, but Oren didn’t allow himself to return the gaze.
“Do you want to try to talk this out before we get to your house?” Rezo asked.
Oren was aware, distantly, that they probably should talk it out, and he was aware—even more distantly—that he should probably be apologizing, but at this moment it was utterly impossible to do either.
So he shrugged.
“Come on, sit up.”
“But if I sit up and pretend I’m ok, won’t that fall under the category of ‘lying’ too?”
Oren heard Rezo sigh. It was followed by the sound of the turn signal clicking on.
Oren jerked upright in his seat as the car came to a stop on the side of the road.
“Wait. What’re you doing?”
Rezo unfastened his seatbelt.
“We’re in a hurry,” Oren motioned for Rezo to stay in his seat.
“You don’t have time to—”
“This will only take a moment.”
“Look, I wasn’t trying to be difficult,” Oren said, his anger falling away before the idea that he’d actually managed to provoke Rezo into turning him over his lap now, rather than waiting until they got to his house. “It’s just that I wasn’t actually lying. Really. I could have. I thought about just making up a reason why I had to go home. You’d never have known the difference.”
A look of disbelief crossed Rezo’s face, but he was still safely on his side of the car, so Oren decided to take encouragement from that.
“But the thing was, I didn’t want to lie to you. It just felt…” Oren struggled to find the right word before giving up and settling on the obvious one, “wrong.”
“It is wrong.”
“So see, I didn’t lie, even when I was tempted to do so.”
“That you eventually told me, doesn’t change that you hid it from me for days.”
He had a point. “I wasn’t intentionally hiding it from you.” Just from everyone else. Rezo had been mere collateral damage. But somehow that didn’t seem like something it would benefit him to admit.
“If you’d told me what was going on, I would have been willing to move the date to another time.”
“I know.” Oren tried not to wince at the admission. “But that doesn’t change that I tried. I made a genuine effort to be honest with you even when I really, really didn’t want to, and I deserve credit for that.”
Rezo blinked at him, before turning to face the dashboard, the lower half of his face disappearing beneath his hand as if deep in thought. It was possible Oren’s words were finally having an effect on him.
“And it’s not like there won’t be consequences from my parents as well. I was so close to getting the internet back permanently, but now—” Oren frowned at the slight shake of Rezo’s shoulders. “Are you… Wait—are you laughing?”
“It’s not funny,” Rezo said, which wasn’t exactly a denial. He took a deep breath and let it out, and when he looked up at Oren his expression was properly forbidding. “But it’s just—are you suggesting that you should earn points for every inappropriate impulse you don’t act on?”
Oren hesitated, but only for a second. “Well, it wouldn’t hurt to have some positive reinforcement. You could try rewarding good behavior. I certainly wouldn’t object to some sort of redeemable get-out-of-consequence points system.”
“Of course you wouldn’t.” Rezo shook his head. “I’ve had the urge to take down your pants and spank you ever since we left the museum, but I’ve been resisting since it seemed more important to check on your house first. Do I deserve a reward for that?”
Even though it wasn’t exactly a threat, Oren’s heart still began to pound.
“Maybe?” Oren gave him a weak smile.
“And if your reward is getting to lie without getting paddled for it, does that mean my reward is getting to spank you without having to wait until—”
“That’s not how it works,” Oren said quickly.
Rezo gave him an odd smile. It was barely there, only visible at the edges, but it was unmistakably aimed at him. Oren couldn’t fathom what he’d done to cause it.
“Why don’t we finish this conversation after we deal with everything else?” Rezo offered.
“Ok.” Oren watched with relief as Rezo re-buckled his seatbelt.
“Do you have reception?” Rezo asked as he put the car in gear.
“I was thinking you could call the catering company and see if they could reschedule their visit for this afternoon.”
“Oh.” Oren chewed his lip as Rezo drove them back onto the road.
“Would you mind if I did that after I get home? It’s not that much longer.”
Rezo nodded and Oren felt a rush of relief. It wasn’t just that he dreaded making the call—any call for that matter—but with his luck they would tell him no, and he needed time to brace himself for that and the fallout that would ensue.
He hoped he hadn’t actually managed to ruin his mother’s party. The last thing he needed to do was upset her now, right before Norman talked to her about Rezo.
Oren closed his eyes and leaned his head against the headrest.
“It’ll be alright,” Rezo said.
“She’ll probably end up blaming you for what I did,” Oren said without opening his eyes. “She’ll think you’re a bad influence.”
Rezo didn’t ask who.
Oren felt a hand slide behind the back of his neck, and after a moment he took the fingers that rested on his shoulder into his own.
“Parents can make relationships hard,” Oren said, giving Rezo’s fingers a gentle squeeze.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Oren opened his eyes to look at Rezo, but his gaze wasn’t returned. Rezo was studying the road with that same quiet determination he seemed to apply to everything he did.
Oren’s heart swelled as Rezo squeezed back.
The caterer’s van was parked in front of the house. The kitchen door was open and workers were loading supplies into the vehicle as if they were preparing to leave. They must have gotten into the house not long after the scheduled time.
At first Oren was flooded with relief. He wouldn’t have to make any awkward phone calls, or end up explaining to his mother why there would be no food or beverages at her party. The problem had been solved without him having to do anything at all.
But as Rezo parked the car—carefully so as avoid blocking anyone in—it occurred to Oren that if the caterers had been able to do their jobs, it meant that someone must have been available to let them in.
He didn’t know if the alarms had been handled remotely, or if someone was inside, waiting to scold him as soon as he stepped through the door. Oren was tempted to check for a car in the garage (there was even a space allotted for Norman), but he didn’t want to have to explain why he was doing that to Rezo, and so instead he found himself lagging behind Rezo as he made his way into the kitchen.
Inside Norman was talking to a dark-haired man in a catering uniform. Behind them, a tiny elderly woman was sitting at the counter. She wore oversized sunglasses, a long grey ponytail, and despite the heat, a baggy pink knit sweater.
Norman nodded in acknowledgment of Oren, but otherwise he kept his attention on the man he was speaking to. Oren was fine with that. There was a sort of reprieve in this moment before he found out just how much trouble he was in.
The woman was looking at him, but it was hard to make out her expression behind the sunglasses. If she was Norman’s aunt, then it was probably a mix of disappointment and frustration.
Although it was odd that she felt the need to wear sunglasses inside at all. He wondered if she had an eye condition. Or a hangover.
He smirked at the thought. It would be nice if someone—anyone—involved in the situation would turn out to be as imperfect as he was.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked over to see Rezo’s slight frown of warning.
Oren schooled his features into an expression not likely to make even more wrath descend upon him and gave Rezo a brief nod. It was strange having another person invested in the outcome of his situation. In a way it was comforting.
Oren watched as the caterer shook hands with Norman, and then thanked them all as he left. Oren was sad to see him go. Norman was less likely to murder him while there were witnesses.
“I see you’ve returned home, sir,” Norman said in what was quite possibly the flattest voice Oren had ever heard him use.
“I—yes.” Oren took a quick steadying breath. “About that—see I made arrangements to handle everything remotely.” Oren held up his phone even though it hadn’t helped before. “But, well...there were some issues with the settings.”
“Then it was fortunate that the caterers had my number on file.”
Oren hesitated, uncertain whether that was something he should agree with or not. It wasn’t lost on him that the cost had been Norman’s plans.
“Can we make it up to you?” Rezo offered, and while that certainly wasn’t something that would have occurred to Oren to do, it was nice to think that such a thing was possible.
Norman’s expression mellowed, fractionally, as he shifted his attention to Rezo. “That isn’t necessary.”
Oren’s guilt only increased at Norman’s refusal.
“I came to visit with Norman,” the woman said, and Oren was surprised to hear she had a thick southern accent, “and I got to do so here just as well as I would’ve anywhere else. Next time he can wear me out, taking me about and showing me the town.”
“How long are you staying?” Rezo asked.
“Name’s June.” She seized Rezo’s hand and shook it vigorously.
“I’m Rezo, Rezalino Diaz.”
“Figured.” She smiled. “I’ll be here just today and tomorrow, then I’m going to down to the beach to visit my daughter.”
“Maybe you could do something tomorrow—”
“I’ll be working the party tomorrow, Mr. Diaz,” Norman said.
“I could do it,” Oren said before he had time to think about the horror of what he was offering.
Norman looked at him blankly, and there was an appeal in that. There was still time to take it back.
“I could take your place,” Oren forced himself to clarify. “At the party.”
Surprise flickered across Norman’s face before it faded into a careful neutral. “Thank you for the offer, sir, but working such an event requires specific training.”
Oren did his best to hide his relief. And maybe this outcome was for the best. Norman would know he was willing to make up for what he’d done, but Oren wouldn’t actually have to work at a crowded function that would take all his willpower just to attend.
“I’ll help him,” Rezo said.
Norman started to shake his head, but before he could complete his refusal, June spoke.
“Let them. It will help their case with his mother.”
Help their case? Oren glanced at Norman and it was obvious from his expression that he’d told her a number of things about them. At least he had the decency to look embarrassed.
“Between the two of us we should be able to handle it,” Rezo said with the blind confidence of a man who had absolutely no idea about what he was getting himself into. “As long as we have some basic instructions.”
Norman looked from Rezo to Oren and back again. “If you’re sure?”
Rezo nodded, and even though it had been Oren’s idea, he was unable to make himself follow suit. Really, it was all he could do not to panic.
“I will contact Mrs. Gilby then and let her know about your offer.”
“Thank you,” Rezo said, “and I apologize for today.”
“It was understandable, sir.”
Oren frowned, not entirely certain what he meant by that.
“It was nice meeting you, June.” Rezo gave her a slight bow. “We’ll let you get back to your meal.”
What meal? For the first time Oren noticed the deli sandwiches on the counter, only one of which was unwrapped.
“You can join us if you like,” June said.
“Thank you, but Oren and I have something we need to talk about.” Rezo held out his hand to Oren.
The word talk produced the usual amount of dread since Oren knew they were going to do nothing of the kind. But Rezo’s hand, and the gesture he was making with it, had a different effect entirely.
Oren’s gaze flickered to Norman and June, but he saw no signs of judgment, and then he chastised himself for hesitating, as if their approval meant more than Rezo’s.
Oren accepted Rezo’s hand and he could feel the strength in his grip. His hold, however, was gentle as he led Oren from the room and up the stairs. He didn’t let go until they were inside Oren’s bedroom.
Once the door was closed, Rezo didn’t waste any time. “Go stand by the bed.”
“Isn’t working the party enough?” Oren shoved his hands into his pockets, dropping his gaze to the carpet. he already knew what the answer would be.
“You’ll feel better once we put this behind us.”
“In theory.” Now that discipline was officially part of their relationship, Oren supposed he had to be mature about this. Actually voluntarily submit to the punishment and all that. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t earned it. Part of him even looked forward to getting some relief from all the guilt. But that didn’t mean he could just walk over and get into position.
Honestly, it had been a lot easier back when Rezo would just pin him down, strip off his clothes, and get it over with. He wasn’t so aware of his own submission—and, well, he didn’t have as much time to think.
“Oren,” Rezo said, his voice a low reminder of what Oren was supposed to be doing. “If—”
At Rezo’s frown, Oren forced himself to continue.
“Not when you’re going to—” Oren made a gesture that while extremely vague, he was certain Rezo would have no trouble figuring out under the circumstances. “I mean, it works better when you—take over?”
Rezo was looking at him, his head tilted ever so slightly to the side as the crease in his brow deepened.
Well, it wasn’t like Oren was making sense. But just the thought of putting the request into actual words—of saying out loud that he wanted Rezo to carry the sole responsibility for carrying out the discipline aspect of their relationship—only make it more obvious how unfair he was being, that he was asking too much of Rezo, being selfish as always, and then Rezo would—
“Ok,” Rezo said.
“Ok?” It took Oren a moment to process the meaning of what Rezo had said, and by then a strong hand was already encircling his wrist.
Rezo didn’t release him even after they’d reached the bed, even though that meant undoing Oren’s jeans and tugging them down with a single hand. Rezo took a seat and turned Oren over his left thigh, his right leg trapping both of Oren’s.
It wasn’t one of their usual positions and the change was worrisome. Was there a reason Rezo needed to put out the extra effort in keeping him in place? He’d seen no sign of an implement, so at least there was that.
Oren heard the sounds of Rezo unbuttoning his sleeves and pushing the fabric back along his forearms, just before he felt the weight of Rezo’s palm come to rest on his bare skin.
And even though there had been a steady increase of the churning in Oren’s insides, there was still comfort in that Rezo was in charge of this, or rather that Oren wasn’t in charge. He focused on his breathing: in and out, deep and slow. He would get through this with a minimal amount of hysterics.
The first smack landed hard. Not as hard as it could have, but it stung. He hated how loud it was, the sound of skin against skin, even though he was fairly confident the soundproofing in the walls would prevent Norman and his aunt from hearing this. Or at least he hoped.
Rezo wasn’t lecturing him, his only focus on bringing his hand down firmly across Oren’s bottom again and again, as if he’d already said everything that needed to be said.
And that was the worst part. Rezo didn’t need to convince Oren that he’d put a huge giant blot on their first date, Oren knew. They both knew.
And he’d risked making a mess of things with his parents and losing Norman’s support.
A sob threatened to wrench its way out of his throat, and he fought to hold it back. There was no way the few stinging swats he’d received by this point would justify tears.
But it was impossible to stop, and his sense of embarrassment only grew as his eyes began to leak.
“I’m sorry,” Oren said once he was certain Rezo had to be aware of his distress. “I shouldn’t be reacting like this—not yet.”
“You don’t need to worry about that.” Rezo’s voice was calm.
“It’s not the pain, it’s just…” Oren’s explanation dissolved into sounds of misery.
Rezo ceased swatting him. “That it was our first date?” His voice was gentler than Oren expected.
“That’s most of it.”
“It was still good.”
“Until I ruined everything.”
Oren’s chest tightened but he said nothing else.
Rezo was quiet for a moment, and Oren didn’t dare twist around, not when there was a good chance he’d be met with disappointment.
“Next time something comes up and interferes with one of our dates,” Rezo said, “just tell me about it, so we can work it out together, ok?”
Even though he’d known there likely would be a next time, it was still nice to hear the words. He nodded, only afterward realizing that Rezo couldn’t see him.
“Ok?” Rezo repeated.
Rezo shifted Oren forward, lifting his left knee and further exposing the lower half of Oren’s bottom. The difference was subtle, but it made Oren feel more exposed.
“That’s the only thing you’re being spanked for. Everything else is being taken care of.”
“Working the party tomorrow will make amends with Norman. As for the alarm system…” Rezo tightened his arm around Oren’s waist. “I think you had enough of a scare that you won’t do anything like that again.”
If anyone else had said this to him, Oren would have been outraged. It didn’t matter that what they said was true. But when Rezo said it, it was as much permission to let go of his misdeeds as it was a reminder not to repeat them.
Rezo wasn’t swatting him any harder than before, but the area he was concentrating his blows was more tender. It wasn’t long before he was pleading in earnest, kicking and twisting in Rezo’s grasp.
But to Oren’s relief, Rezo stopped soon after. Oren expected to be guided to his feet, but instead Rezo bent down to remove Oren’s shoes. He pushed his pants the rest of the way off, restored Oren’s boxers, and carefully slid him under the covers.
He removed his own shoes and joined Oren in the bed.
Even though it hadn’t been that bad of a spanking, Oren was too worked up to appreciate where they were, partially undressed and under the covers. Rezo put an arm around him and Oren buried his face in his neck. He clung to him, and Rezo returned the embrace.
Rezo let Oren have as much time as he wanted, stroking his hands down his back until Oren got himself under control.
“I was impressed when you offered to work Norman’s shift for him,” Rezo said after a while.
As good as the word impressed sounded coming from Rezo, Oren wasn’t ready to let go of the peace of the moment to think about what he’d volunteered to do.
But then he remembered that Rezo had volunteered too.
Oren snorted. “You say that now.”
A slight crease formed in Rezo’s brow, but before he could ask what Oren meant, a notification alert sounded from his pocket. Another alert followed from Oren’s phone, wherever it was on the floor.
It had to be Norman. He was the only person who would contact them both.
Rezo leaned off the side of the bed to locate Oren’s pants. He handed the phone to him without looking at the screen. Oren appreciated the gesture of privacy, even if he was certain the texts said the same thing.
“Why does Norman need my measurements?” Rezo asked.
Or maybe not. Oren’s had only informed him that his mother had said yes.
“For the party. It’s sort of a…historical reenactment.” Oren did his best to dampen his amusement over Rezo’s reaction.“Didn’t you wonder why the caterers delivered the food the day before the party?” Oren smiled at him. “My mom didn’t want anything present that would spoil the mood.”
“And what is the mood?”
Rezo sighed and Oren lost the war with himself and grinned.
“So,” Oren continued, “Norman needs your measurements for your costume.”
“My costume?” Rezo’s expression was becoming progressively more longsuffering. “And who am I supposed to be?”
“Probably just a random butler, but I know who they’ll think you are.”
“And who is that?”
Oren wasn’t certain if he truly hadn’t guessed or if he just wanted to hear what Oren would say.
Rezo shook his head. “I’m not even going to ask why you think that fits.”
“It could be worse.”
Rezo cocked an eyebrow at him.
“At least Heathcliff’s interesting.” Oren grinned. “And he’s not completely bad—once you get past all that brutality.”
Rezo’s eyes narrowed. “Oren—”
“Well, you have to admit there are certain similarities in how—” Oren’s taunt turned into a squeak as Rezo rolled on top of him, pressing him into the mattress. The tenderness in his backside was fading, but it was still enough to make him wince.
“I’ve already been spanked! You can’t do it again! Don’t—” Oren’s protests were smothered by Rezo’s lips.
Oren stilled at the contact as his brain caught up with Rezo’s evidently friendlier intentions, and before he got to the point where he could reciprocate, Rezo broke the kiss.
“Am I hurting you?” Rezo smoothed a strand of Oren’s hair away from his face.
“It’s fine,” Oren said, a little too enthusiastically. But it was fine. What had been unpleasant a minute before, felt entirely different when he had the heat and strength of Rezo on top of him.
“So if I’m Heathcliff, who will they think you are?”
“Me?” Oren thought back to the conversation he’d had with Norman a few days earlier. “Linton, probably.”
Rezo gave him a slight frown that turned from one of concentration to confusion. “Heathcliff’s son?”
Oren rolled his eyes. “No. His rival. The one who actually got the girl.”
Rezo snorted, and then lowered his head until his lips were beside Oren’s ear. “And you want the girl.” The warm, teasing tone sent prickles down Oren’s neck.
“Ah, no, but—” Oren gasped as Rezo lightly nipped his ear.
Rezo kissed the injured spot, as if to make amends. “I think I have a better solution for this love triangle.”
Oren brushed his fingers through the short hairs on the back of Rezo’s neck. “Oh god, yes.”
Rezo laughed. “What, no witty remark?”
“Maybe I just agree with you too much.” Oren pulled him closer, resuming the kiss.