The Guilty Heart

Written By: Mel

Answer to Lady Jodie's story challenge about a sick or injured Top.

Dedication: To Stef, my friend who is always there, and to Jodie, who finally kicked my muse back to life.

Eric is finally asleep; his foot propped up on a pillow. The lines of pain on his face have smoothed out for the first time since it happened. Oh God, this is all my fault. What kind of Brat breaks his Top’s leg? This had started out as such a great day. How could I have let it get so bad?

The storm started around four a.m. and by the time we were up and getting ready for work at seven, it was pretty bad outside. Eric had put on the local news to get the road conditions. They were announcing the usual school and bus cancellations and then the mayor came on to ask that everyone who did not have to travel, to please stay home, as this would be safer and give the plough and salt trucks the opportunity to clear the roads more efficiently. Included in the announcement was the request that all town employees not involved in snow removal or emergency services please stay home as well. I work for the town planning office and as such would be included in the stay home crowd.

“Yahoo!” I yelled. “No work for us today.” I was grinning happily and danced up to my partner, planting a big kiss on his frowning face. Suddenly wary of that look, I asked, “Why don’t you look happy?”

Eric gave me one of those small smiles he gives when he’s trying to lighten up bad news. “Baby, you know we only live a five minute drive from my job, so it’s not a long difficult commute on bad road conditions like you would have. As well, I have a major project that has to be finished off today. I’m going to have to go into work. It won’t take the whole day. I’m hoping to be done by two or three at the latest.”

I wasn’t happy but I knew that Eric had been working very hard on this project and he felt he had to get it done and sent off to head office today.

“I know,” I said sadly. “I’ll just have to laze around the house without you.”

“A little lazing is fine,” he replied. “However I want you to take care of some chores that need doing while I’m gone. I think…”

I didn’t give Eric a chance to finish before I began my protest. “Chores! You’ve got to be kidding me? This is a snow day and that’s for having fun, not doing some lame chores.”

That of course earned me one of those patented Eric looks. “Just settle down, my boy, and listen before you dig yourself into trouble. The forecast says the freezing rain will have stopped by nine a.m. I want you to get outside at that time and get the no-salt ice melter spread all over the driveway and walkways and stairs. I’ll sprinkle some on the back porch and steps on my way out to the garage but I’m sure you’ll need to spread more there when you go out. We don’t need someone taking a fall on our property. When you’re done with that I’d appreciate you changing the sheets on our bed and washing a load of towels as we’re getting short on them. Other than that, you can have the day to yourself. I don’t think that is too unreasonable a request is it?”

I pouted but knew it would get me no where and besides it really wasn’t that much to do. “Okay, I can do that.”

Eric smiled and kissed me. “Good man,” he said.

The early part of the morning went by quickly. I changed the bedding and put the towels into wash, all while watching talk shows on the TV. When I looked outside at nine-thirty, the freezing rain had stopped and the sun was just peeking through the clouds. It was truly a beautiful sight. Everything was covered with a crystal clear sheet of ice; each tiny branch of every tree glistened in the weak sunlight. The snow that lay on the ground was coated in ice giving it a high-polished sheen. It was a winter wonderland out there.

Feeling invigorated by the sight, I got on my outerwear and ventured into it. I chose the same method of leaving the house that Eric had earlier. There was a small covered pail filled with the ice melter and a scoop sitting by the back porch door so I carefully made my way outside, sprinkling the chemical in front of me as I walked. I sent broad sweeping arcs of the stuff over the entire driveway, having to refill the small pail several times from the large bucket in the garage.

I was just finishing the front walkway when I heard Mrs. Thompson from next door come out onto her porch. Mrs. Thompson is a sweet widowed lady who has lived in that house for more than forty years. She raised her three kids there and stayed on after her husband passed away two years ago. I know her kids are always after her to move into a senior’s apartment building because they worry about her being alone in the big old place, but she is adamant about keeping her home. I could see her struggling with one of those huge bags of salt and immediately went to her aid. I called out to her as I made my way up her icy front walk, sprinkling my ice melter in front of me as I went. “Mrs. Thompson, why don’t you let me do that for you?”

She smiled as she saw me approach. “Oh Reggie, you dear boy. Whatever would I do without you? I’ve got plenty of my own salt though, dear, so don’t go using up yours.”

“No problem, Mrs. T. I’ll have it spread out in no time,” I said as I took the bag from her.

“When you’re done, why don’t you come in for coffee? I’ve just baked a banana loaf this morning and it’s waiting for someone to try it.”

How could I refuse the dear old soul? She must get pretty lonely. “Sure sounds great. I’ll be done and at your door in about ten minutes, okay?”

“Lovely, dear,” she replied as she made her way back into the safe, warm indoors.

Mrs. T. and I had a nice visit; her cake and coffee were to die for. She talked my ear off about her grandchildren, especially her one little grandson, Derek. She went on about what a beautiful child he was but he was such a handful for his parents. She explained he had something called ADHD and that his mother quite despaired of him, sometimes thinking that he would never succeed. When I told her I too had ADHD, she was amazed. Nothing would do but she had to hear the entire story of my battles with it, my long-term use of Ritalin, and my finally leaving drugs behind to make use of more natural methods of dealing with my issues.

Finally, I made my excuses and went back home. I got the towels from the dryer and folded them neatly just like Eric likes and even put them away in the cupboard. Yes, this was turning out to be a good day. I had completed all my tasks and still had a couple of hours to just relax and have fun.

Feeling pretty good about my successes, I decided to put on some of my favourite CDs louder than Eric allows me to play them and I plopped down at the computer for a little web surfing. The minute I logged on, I saw my best friend Cecily’s happy face lit up on Yahoo messenger, so we started up a chat. She too was staying home because of the storm. The school where she taught was closed, so the two of us could while away a couple of hours chatting. I never understand how it is that I can talk for so long with Cec. We hardly ever seem to run out of things to say and we can talk to each other about anything. She’s the only person who knows Eric and I have a discipline partnership and she accepts it as if it was something she deals with daily.

It was about two o’clock when I heard what sounded like banging on the back door. I told Cecily BRB, turned down the stereo and went to investigate.

There standing at the back door was Mrs. T. She looked positively frantic. “Thank goodness, Reggie. Come quick to the front. It’s Eric. He’s had a fall.”

I don’t remember even getting my feet shoved into my shoes but I must have done as I was wearing them when I came to a skidding halt on the front walkway. There sitting on the stone walk was my beautiful Eric; his face contorted with pain as he gingerly held his left ankle. His brief case had broken open and file folders were scattered around him.

I fell to my knees at his side. “Eric, are you alright?” I asked stupidly, knowing that he obviously was not.

“My ankle, babe,” he whispered between clenched teeth. ‘I think I might have broken it.”

I turned to Mrs. Thompson. “Please call 911 and get an ambulance for us, Mrs. T.”

But before she could respond, Eric spoke up. “No, there is no need for an ambulance. Just help me up, Reggie. We can drive to the hospital.”

I tried so hard to argue with him and get him to see reason but he would have none of it. He even insisted I pick up his scattered files and put them back in his brief case before helping him to the car. Mrs. T. helped with the brief case and retrieved my jacket from the house as I got Eric settled into the back of my car. I could tell he was in a lot of pain from the way he was hissing and gasping with each movement but never cried out or complained.

During the drive to the hospital, it finally occurred to me to ask Eric how he’d fallen. His answer left me cold with horrible guilt. He’d slipped on the on the front porch step; the steps I was about to salt when Mrs. T. came out onto her porch that morning. I’d forgotten to go back and finish the job; I had been so smug and satisfied with myself that I’d done all the chores Eric had asked me to do. Oh fuck! My stupid brain and the ADHD. I couldn’t keep my concentration on the job long enough to go back and finish it and now my partner was suffering because of my incompetence. I had messed up big this time, really big.

We got to the hospital with Eric only having to tell me to slow down on about six occasions. I pulled into the emergency driveway and jumped out, telling Eric to stay still while I got some help. The few hospital employees I could see as I went in were all with someone, but I spotted a wheelchair sitting by the doorway and pushed it quickly outside to my waiting car. We had gently pulled off Eric’s shoe when we got him into the car at home and I could see that the ankle had swollen up a lot in that short time. We managed to get him into the chair without banging his foot and I pushed him into the ER.

Eric’s P.O.V.

It had been a busy day at work getting the last bits of that project finished, but now it was over and I was home. I smiled as I looked at the driveway and walkways around the house. Reggie had done a good job of clearing up all the ice from the storm. Things had been pretty good at home lately. We’d had very few flare ups of Reg’s ADHD induced temper and he was doing very well at completing his assigned tasks.

With brief case in hand, I headed up the front walk, mounted the bottom step to the porch and suddenly found my foot sliding out from under me. In an attempt to catch myself and stop the fall, I somehow brought my left foot down on the walkway at a bad angle and it twisted under me as I fell. I could feel the snap and there was no doubt in my mind that I had broken a bone.

I lay on the hard stone of the walkway for a couple of minutes just trying to catch my breath. There must have been a stray bit of ice on the step as I could clearly see that Reggie had done an excellent job clearing the ice around the house. From within the house I could hear the vibrations of music. Reggie had the stereo going and quite loudly at that. I attempted to shift to a more comfortable position but the pain was terrible and left me gasping. There seemed to be no way I could get up and balanced enough to get up the steps and near the front door. I tried calling out to Reggie but there was no way he could hear me over the din of his music.

I lay there for better than ten minutes. By the grace of God or whatever angel watches over me, Mrs. Thompson our next door neighbour heard me calling Reggie’s name enough times to grow curious and look outside to see what was happening. The sweet woman was soon crouching beside me. I asked her to go round the back of the house and get Reggie for me. Within seconds my partner was kneeling at my side. Reg wanted to call an ambulance but I felt that this was unworthy of an emergency vehicle and insisted he take me to hospital in his car.

Fortunately we live fairly close to the hospital and although I had to remind him to slow down a couple of times, Reggie did get us to the hospital safely. It took ten hours from the time we arrived at the hospital to get things done. I know Reggie was very concerned for me but I had to admonish him to sit still on several occasions when he got up to bother the nursing staff. He was obviously nervous and upset with the entire situation. I kept sending him on small errands just to keep him occupied while we waited. I was fortunate they determined fairly quickly that the break would not require surgical intervention. I was given permission to have something to eat while I waited my time in the fracture clinic where the cast would be applied.

Reggie brought us back some questionable looking ham sandwiches and lukewarm pop from the cafeteria vending machines. Although I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry, I ate if only to encourage Reggie to as well. I asked him a couple of times if something was troubling him but each time he denied having any problems beyond his concern for me. I will confess though that with the confusion of the hospital environment and the ache in my leg, I didn’t really push him as I might normally have done.

I was finally fitted with a cast and provided crutches. The doctor advised that I not put any weight on the ankle for the next ten days and at that point I would be given a boot which would fit over the cast and that I could walk with it.

It was three a.m. by the time we got in the back door of the house. I was exhausted and the painkillers were wearing off. Reggie was wonderful in his assistance. He got me upstairs and helped me undress. The hospital had loaned me a pair of scrub pants that were loose enough to fit over the cast, thus saving my good suit pants from having to be slit up the leg. Although they were filthy from the fall, somehow they had survived without a tear. Reg brought me a glass of water and the pain pills the hospital had provided to last me until the prescription could be filled in the morning. Once settled into the comfort of our own bed with my leg elevated and the effect of the medication hitting me, I fell into a deep sleep.

When next I woke Reggie was curled up asleep and half on top of me. A glance at the clock told me it was past ten a.m. I shifted slightly and Reg was awake immediately. His hair was tousled; he had sleep creases in his face and a small line of drool at the corner of his mouth. He was gorgeous.

“Hi, beautiful,” I said smiling. “Did you have a good sleep?”

His response wasn’t what I was expecting. “I’m sorry, Eric. I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you. I hope I didn’t hurt you. Let me get you breakfast, or maybe you need help up to the bathroom. Do you want to get washed? I can do that, but I’ve got to go to the pharmacy for you prescription, then I’ll...”

He was speaking so quickly, almost frantic sounding. I knew I needed to settle him down immediately. I reached for his hands and pulled them quickly to me, holding him firmly. I spoke gently and calmly. “I’m okay, baby. Just relax. I’m…”

Reggie took that moment to take in the time and he leaped from my grasp, cursing as he went. “Oh gods, look at the time!” he shouted. “I was supposed to be at work at eight-thirty. Shit! How could I be so fucked up!” His voice was nearly hysterical. Since I couldn’t easily move to him, I knew I’d have to calm him down with words alone.

“Reggie, sit down right now!” I seldom raise my voice to him, so I’m sure it was quite startling. He sat on the side of the bed and stared at me with the look of a deer caught in the headlights. He was breathing hard. I once again reached over and pulled him to me. “Reggie, I need you to hear me, baby. Take a deep slow breath in through your nose. That’s it. Now out through your mouth. Good, now keep doing that and listen to me.” His breathing slowed but he was still looking anxious, as if any moment he might just explode. I spoke very calmly and softly as I had learned to do with him when he got out of control. “I’m going to need your help today, honey, so I’d like you to call into work and tell them you’re not going to be able to come in. You’ve got lots of vacation time owed you so I’m sure a couple days off will be fine. Then I’d really like it if you could give me a hand getting to the bathroom, okay?”

Having clear cut directions always seemed to help Reggie when he was like this. “Okay, Eric. I can do that,” he responded.

We got through things that morning fairly well. I was pretty clumsy at first with the crutches but was improving with some practice. Reggie was very helpful, almost too helpful in getting things for me and assisting me with what were normally simple tasks, like walking and maneuvering the stairs. As dinner hour approached, I suggested we keep things simple by heating up the lasagna we had in the freezer and fixing a salad to go with it. He had left me watching some talk show on television while he went to the kitchen to get the dinner put together. Growing bored with the program, I hobbled into the kitchen in search of my lover’s company.

Reg was at the sink washing a red pepper. On the cutting board beside him were thinly sliced onions, tomato, cucumber and a colander filled with lettuce. “Hey, babe. I thought you were just going to put together one of those quick Caesar Salads,” I commented, thinking he’d gone to a lot more work than I’d expected.

“Why, because you don’t think I’m capable of making a better salad?” he snapped.

I do confess to being momentarily stunned by this display of temper. “Reggie, that’s not what I…”

“If you don’t think I’m able to do a salad, you can do it yourself!” He turned to storm from the room.

Somehow despite the crutches, I was able to snake out a hand and grab his arm as he went past me. “Stop right where you are. First of all, that is no way to speak to me, my lad. I do not appreciate your attitude at all. Secondly, if you had taken the time to listen to me you would have known that I am in fact quite impressed by all you’ve done. My comment was simply to say you didn’t need to do all this extra work when the simple Caesar would have been fine.” I managed to land two rather impressive swats to his behind while saying all this, though I did end up dropping a crutch.

Reggie’s eyes were bright with unshed tears when he looked at me. “I’m sorry I snapped,” he choked out as he bent to retrieve the fallen crutch.

“It’s okay, hon. We’re good now. Why don’t you finish up with the salad and I’ll get the table set?” But Reggie would have none of that. He insisted I sit with my foot propped up on another chair while he completed the dinner preparations. Throughout the meal he seemed edgy, like he was nervous about something, but continued to deny any problems.

The next day was Friday and Reggie had arranged to have it off as well, to be home with me. By Monday, he would be returning to work and I was sure I could manage on my own by that point. Little did I realize what the next few days would hold in store for us.

Reggie’s POV

It was really late by the time we got home from the hospital. I’m sure Eric was in pain, but he didn’t make much of it. I wished that I was strong enough to pick him up and carry him into the house, but all I could manage was to let him lean on my shoulder as he hopped up the steps to the back door. I certainly wasn’t going to have him go near those front steps; I’d messed him up enough already.

It was an arduous journey upstairs to the bedroom and I could tell Eric was at the end of his strength by the time I’d helped him change and get settled into bed. He was asleep with in moments.

When I went back downstairs to lock up I noticed the message light flashing on the phone. I was startled when the automated voice said there were six new messages. To my horror they were all from Cecily and each one was progressively more anxious than the last. I’d totally forgotten that I’d left her hanging on the Instant Messenger with ‘BRB, there’s someone banging on my door’. In the fourth message, she was on her cell phone standing at our front door. She was partially apologizing for being a worrywart but in the next breath berating me for leaving her in such a worried state. She finished that message with a reminder that we should salt the steps they were slippery. ‘Lord, Cec,’ I thought, ‘thank god you didn’t fall too.’ I couldn’t stand the thought of being responsible for hurting her as well.

The final message had been left only an hour ago at two a.m. asking me to call her no matter what time I got in. I went into the den so I could talk to her, without the sound of my voice carrying upstairs and disturbing Eric. The computer was still on as I’d left it. I moved the mouse as I was picking up the phone to call Cecily. As the screen lit up there was the IM chat we’d been having earlier, with line after line from her asking where I was and some gently telling me off for leaving her like that. I was such an idiot. I’d caused my partner to break his leg and worried my best friend nearly to death.

The phone hadn’t even finished the first ring when Cecily’s voice came on. “Oh god, Reggie, that better be you!”

“Yeah, Cec, it’s me. I’m so sorry for leaving you hanging like that. I know you were worried.”

“I’ve been out of my mind, Reggie. What happened with you?” she asked. “You tell me you’ll be right back, someone is banging on your door and then you don’t return. Leaving me with no word of what was happening. I was scared for you.”

“I know, hon. I feel just horrible, but it was Mrs. T. at the door. Eric had fallen on the ice outside. We’ve been at the hospital all this time. He has a broken ankle.” I went on to tell her all the details of our hospital adventures and Eric’s prognosis. Being the dear friend that she is, she offered to help out in whatever way she could.

I finally crawled into bed with Eric after four a.m. I had planned to get up before him and make some breakfast to serve to him in bed. I had to do everything I could to make this up to him. I was determined to make him as comfortable as possible. I thought seriously about telling him that I was totally at fault for his broken leg; that I had screwed up as usual by not finishing my job of salting. But I couldn’t bring myself to stick him with having to deal with me and my mess-ups, when he was the one in need of help.

I know I’ll have to confess to him; but when he’s better that way he’ll have the strength to give me the walloping I deserve to get. And in the meantime, I’ll be able to take care of him like I should.

I didn’t remember anything until I woke the next morning, draped over Eric’s chest. He was giving me one of his beautiful smiles as I opened my eyes. I don’t deserve this man. He’s so wonderful to me and I’m always screwing up. Now I’ve screwed up so bad, I’ve caused him injury. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘I’m going to be the best partner in the world until that cast is off and he’s back to normal. I’m going to do everything for him.’

Wanting to take care of him to the best of my ability, I’m afraid I got a little worked up and Eric had to talk me through one of my patented losses of control. I had momentarily freaked when I realized that I was late for work but of course didn’t end up going anyway, as I needed to stay home and help Eric. My boss was extremely understanding when I explained what had happened and he told me to take the next day off as well and return to work on Monday.

That morning went fairly well. We even managed a good laugh as I helped Eric take a bath with his broken leg hanging over the side of the tub. Neither of us has ever used the bathtub since we’ve lived in the house, we both prefer showers. I know though that he felt a lot better when he was clean. Eric is a very fastidious man. He showers twice most days, once after work to wash away the day’s worth of sweat and grunge and once in the morning to wash away the previous night’s worth of sweat and grunge, (that version of sweat and grunge was at least fun to make).

I tried so hard to make everything as easy as possible for him and was determined not to give him any trouble. We had a small flare up at dinnertime. I’d decided to make a mixed salad and was working hard in the kitchen to chop the veggies in the same way he does and surprise him with it. He walked in while I was working and I stupidly mistook what he was saying and ended up snapping at him, spoiling the mood entirely. It took all the concentration I had to keep things going that night. Inside a voice was screaming each and every time I saw that cast on his leg, ‘You fucked up royally this time, Reginald.’

Friday morning dawned bright and clear. I woke as I usually do; half on top of Eric with his arm slung over me. I shimmied out from his hold without waking him, which was unusual as he normally wakens the moment I move. I managed to make quick use of the washroom and slip downstairs to put on the coffee and make us some breakfast. I’m not the greatest cook in the world but I do a half-decent job of scrambled eggs with fried tomatoes and toast. I could hear the sound of the toilet flushing as I was carrying the tray with our breakfast up the stairs.

Eric smiled brightly as I came into the room; he was hobbling back from the washroom on his crutches. “Hey, babe, I was just going to come down. I could smell those fried tomatoes and coffee up here.” He gave an appreciative sniff. I put the tray down on a chair and helped Eric settle into the other one with his foot up on the ottoman.

When we bought this house it had three bedrooms, but we decided that we wanted to increase the size of the master suite. So we took down the wall separating the master from the next largest bed room and from this extra space we doubled the size of the bathroom, made a large walk in closet and had a bay window installed that looked out over the back garden. In front of the window we have a sitting area with two club chairs and a large ottoman. We will often sit there when we’re looking for a quite place to talk or simply to enjoy the view of the garden. We have a huge backyard filled with trees and shrubs and it never fails to provide us with something beautiful to look at no matter what the season.

This morning the temperature had risen above freezing for the first time since the ice storm and with the sun shining brightly, the ice was beginning to melt and drip from the branches of the trees, falling in fat plops onto the snow below. A brilliant red cardinal was chattering noisily in the tree nearest the window, all in all a perfectly peaceful and beautiful sight to behold. Along with all this beauty, I had my loving partner with me and a day off work; so why did I feel like I had a pound of lead sitting in my gut?

“This is delicious, Reggie,” Eric commented as he ate my simple offering. “And it’s so nice sitting here, we should make a habit of eating our breakfast up here on Sunday mornings when it’s too cold to eat outside. It’s a much nicer view than we have in the kitchen.”

My mind was still wandering when he spoke, so when I didn’t respond he tapped me on the leg with the end of his crutch. This startled me so much that I jumped sending my plate of eggs and tomato off of my lap and onto the floor. “What the fuck did you do that for? I have enough to do around here without you making me dump my breakfast!” I screamed as I looked at the mess lying at my feet. I regretted those words the very second they spilled from my mouth. They had flown out with as little thought as the plate had flown from my lap and they lay there between us even more ugly and disturbing than the congealing mess on the floor.

The look on Eric’s face was one of shock. ‘Oh god, what had I done now?’ was all I could think as I dropped to my knees and began scooping the mess back onto the overturned plate. Tears were escaping from the corners of my eyes when I looked up at my speechless partner. “Eric, I’m sorry… I didn’t mean what I said…” I crawled the three feet between us on my knees and buried my face in his lap, clutching his lounge pants in my hands and managing to wipe egg and tomato slime all over them. “Please, Eric; forgive me. I’m such an idiot…I just…”

His hand went to the back of my neck and stroked me gently. “Its okay, baby, just relax.” He soothed over and over. I calmed down a bit and I pulled my head up off his lap and noticed the mess I’d made of his pants. This just seemed to send me into another tailspin of guilt.

“Shit…look at your pants!” I jumped up from the floor. “I’ll get you some clean ones. I’m sorry. I’m such a screw up… I…”

From that point to be honest, I don’t remember a lot. I fell into a full-blown panic attack, hyperventilating and everything. I vaguely recall Eric’s arms wrapping around me and I found myself lying prone on the bed listening to his soothing voice talk me through the attack. He was gently but firmly admonishing me to breathe slowly in through my nose and out through my mouth, as he softly massaged my back and shoulders. The old method of breathing in a paper bag is no longer recommended, but Eric’s methods of relaxation and talking me through it were better than any professional help I had ever received.

After a while I had relaxed enough to feel in control of myself again. I rolled over on the bed and saw Eric looking down at me. Although his mouth was smiling, I could see concern and something else in his eyes.

“Feeling better now, babe?” he asked. I nodded as I sat up. He was perched on the side of bed with his cast-encased leg just a bare inch above the floor. His crutches were still over by the window. He’d moved me from the chairs to the bed and in doing so had put the weight of his body onto his broken ankle.

“Oh, Eric, you’re in pain, aren’t you?” I asked stupidly, seeing the lines etched deeply in his forehead.

He placed his finger across my lips. “Its okay, sweetheart, I’m fine. You do not start worrying about my ankle. Do you hear me?” His words were spoken in that ‘don’t you dare argue’ Top’s voice of his that I had no choice but to nod dumbly.

The rest of the day passed without any major incidents, but the pound of lead in my gut kept making itself know every time I looked at Eric’s leg. I knew he was concerned about me and he managed to corner me after dinner with his usual perceptiveness asking ‘what was bothering me?’ But I was once again able to deflect him with a smile and promise that the only thing bothering me was my loving concern for the discomfort he was in with his leg.

Saturday, the day the shit hit the fan. I woke to the sound of Eric’s voice cursing from the bathroom. When I arrived at the doorway he was balancing on his good leg while attempting to pick up the crutches that had fallen to the floor. I quickly scooped them and handed them back to him.

“Thanks, babe. I guess I’m getting clumsy in my old age. What would you like to do today, take a jog in the park, go cross-country skiing, maybe a hike up the Niagara Escarpment?” he asked with a laugh.

Somehow to me it didn’t seem the least bit funny that my normally active partner was reduced to hobbling around on crutches and I told him so.

“Reggie, I have always been a strong believer in the healing power of laughter. Although this is a pain in the ass right now, I am not going to allow it to rule my life. This is a temporary set back, okay? Nothing we can’t get through together.”

I plastered a false smile on my face and agreed with him.

After lunch I made a run to the store for some groceries and left Eric on the sofa in the living room with a stack of magazines, cold drink and the television remote all within his reach. I had even ensured that he had used the bathroom before I headed out. I was gone just over an hour and called out to him as I came in through the back door, groceries in hand. When I brought in the third load of groceries and he still hadn’t answered me, I got concerned and went to the living room to check on him.

There he was sound asleep on the sofa, snoring softly. I smiled and got the throw blanket from the back of the chair and lay it gently over him. As I was tucking him in, I noticed a bruise on the back of his hand that hadn’t been there before. I gently touched the surface of the mark and Eric’s eyes opened. “What happened here?” I asked gently.

“Just me being clumsy again. I had a cramp in my good leg so I got up to move around a bit and work it out, but the fricking thing got a spasm and I lost my balance. I was by the doorway and I put my hand out to catch myself from falling but with the crutch in my hand I was totally awkward and whacked it against the corner. I didn’t fall, but I sure wasn’t graceful,” he said laughing.

How could he be laughing when I felt like this? “What did you think you were doing getting up like that when you were home alone? What if you had fallen? Did you want me to come home and find you lying on the floor with another broken leg or worse?” I raged. Heat was rising in my face and I was sure it must have been the colour of a ripe tomato.

“Reggie, calm down. It wasn’t that bad, honey. I’m perfectly fine,” he soothed.

“Fine!” I shouted. “Fine? You’re not fine! You have a broken ankle and it’s my fault and now I can’t even take care of you well enough to keep you from getting hurt even more. Fine, you say? Not by a long shot, especially with me as a partner.” I ran from the house and got into my car, heading I knew not where.

I drove around town for awhile, a seething cauldron of emotions, mostly I hated myself. I had caused the person who means the most in the world to me to be injured and now I couldn’t even control myself enough to care for him. I abandoned him when he needed me. Could there be a stupider, more useless person around? After about an hour, I found myself in front of McClusker’s Bar. I knew it was a bad idea but damn, I needed to do something to drown my misery. I found a place at the bar and ordered a beer, and then another and then another. You’ve heard the term ‘crying in your beer’? Well, that night it’s exactly what I did.

Eric’s POV

I called after Reggie when he ran from the room. I wanted to follow him, to stop his flight and try to make sense of what had just happened. By the time I got myself untangled from the blanket he had tucked around me and got to my feet, make that foot, I could hear the sound of his car racing down the driveway. I knew that it was hopeless but nonetheless I tried calling his cell phone, but of course got only his voice mail. I did leave him a message saying in as firm a voice as I could that I expected him to return home immediately and talk to me.

Have you ever attempted pacing while on crutches? I can now tell you it is a difficult and truly futile endeavour. As one hour quickly slid into three, I was growing more and more anxious. Despite all our work on it, my Reggie is still a very reactive person; act first and think later continues to be his MO.

I made casual calls to all of Reggie’s friends, inquiring if they had seen him that afternoon. Cecily seem to catch on that I was concerned but I shrugged her off saying that I thought his phone must have died and that it was no big deal.

More time passed without a word and when those three hours had become six, I decided it was time to call in reinforcements. I picked up the phone and dialed Cecily’s number again.

Cecily’s P.O.V.

To say that Eric’s call surprised me would be an understatement in the extreme. Not that Reggie’s running off surprised me, but for Eric to feel desperate enough to ask for my help certainly did. However, this is one circumstance where the even best of Top’s (and Eric is the best) would need some help. I only wished that Eric had called me sooner. By the time I set out to look for him, Reggie had been gone from home for almost seven hours.

Since Eric had called all the appropriate friends and relatives, I decided to a look around. The pubs were a good bet. I went first to McClusker’s, but he was nowhere in sight. As I was heading towards the door, I felt a tap on the shoulder. Jim Anderson, one of the town councilors, was giving me his best politician’s smile. His son was in my class and the kid was a real handful. “Mr. Anderson, how nice to seen you,” I lied.

“Miss Shaw, I’ve been intending to call you regarding Tyler’s grades…” His voice droned on at me but I wouldn’t be able to tell you another thing he said because at that moment Reggie came staggering out of the men’s room. I quickly told the old windbag that he would have to call me at the school and left him standing there with his mouth hanging open like a fish out of water.

As I neared my friend, I could see he was in a bad way. His face was red and splotchy and his clothes were disheveled. He took a seat at the bar without even noticing my approach. “Another draught,” he slurred as he dug a five from his pocket.

I put my hand over his and caught the bartender’s attention. “Change that order to a large bottle of water,” I said.

When Reggie’s eyes met mine, he immediately fell into my arms, his face pressed into my shoulder and he began to cry. After a few minutes, he was able to pull himself together enough to talk. He smelled of stale beer and was obviously quite drunk.

“Cec, I’ve lost it all,” he moaned. “I’ve ruined my whole life…I’m such an asshole.”

I took him firmly by the shoulders and looked him in the eye. “Reginald Smithhaven-Johnson, you stop that right now! I will not listen to you running down my best friend like that. I love you and Eric loves you so much, he’d die without you. You are a dear and wonderful man,” I laughed slightly. “A bit reactionary I have to admit, but still wonderful and you have NOT ruined your life.”

“Oh god, Cec, you weren’t there. I was such a jerk and Eric is hurt because of me. He deserves someone who isn’t so disjointed he can’t even remember to put salt on the steps.” He began to cry again.

There it was! The whole reason behind Reggie’s behaviour, guilt. It was a monster trying to eat his very soul. I know the workings of his mind well enough to be certain that telling him it was not his fault wouldn’t help the situation in the slightest. This he had to work out with Eric. What I could do for my friend was to help him sober up enough to understand that no matter what, Eric loved him and he needed to go home and face his problems head on. I got him to start in on the water and fed him some Tylenol to help relieve the hangover before it began. He was too drunk at that point to really hear my words but I calmed him enough to know that going home was the right thing to do.

I was able to persuade him to let me call Eric and tell him what was happening. I swear the phone didn’t even ring when Eric’s voice came on the line. “Reggie?”

“It’s Cecily,” I responded. “I’ve found him. We’re at McClusker’s. Give us a little time and I’ll have him home to you soon.”

“Is he okay?” Eric asked.

“Yeah, he’s going to be fine once he sobers up a bit.”

“Just bring him home, Cecily, please.” Eric’s voice actually had a pleading sound to it. Poor guy was really worried for Reggie.

“I will. See you soon.”

When I got off the phone, Reggie was laying with his head on the bar. I rubbed his back as I spoke with him. “Hey, hon, time we got you home to your love.”

Reg just moaned and mumbled, “Wanna sleep.”

Laughing as I gently prodded. “You can sleep all you want when you get home, sweetie. Come on now, up you get.” I pulled him into an upright position, expecting only to see bleary sleep-filled eyes, what I saw caught me off guard. His eyes were shining with unshed tears and his face appeared to be wracked with pain. “Reggie?” I asked quietly. “I thought you were ready to go home now?”

He clamped his eyes shut and tears squeezed between the lids. “I’m such a fuck up, Cec. I need to let Eric go. He deserves so much more than I can give him.”

I wiped the tears from his cheeks. “Listen to me, Reggie. This is the alcohol talking. Eric is the luckiest man on earth to have you and he knows it too. Now you just pull yourself together and get home to that man you love.” I knew I had to be firm with him. Reggie has the biggest insecurity streak you can imagine, not that I could blame him. With his background and the way his family treated him, it’s a wonder he does as well as he does.

“Thanks, Cecily, you’re a very special friend. I wish I could live up to your belief in me.”

“Oh, Reggie, you do; up to it and beyond.”

I guided him outside and lead him to my car. When I saw him looking towards his own vehicle, I told him that it could spend the night right were it was and that I’d take him the next day to pick it up.

Reggie was pretty quiet during the drive home but I could see him chewing nervously on his lower lip as we turned onto his street.

Eric’s P.O.V.

I’ve never felt as relieved as I did the moment I saw Reggie stepping out of Cecily’s car. Cecily went to him, put her arm around his waist and guided him to the front door. I pulled it open as they were coming up the front steps and hobbled out on my crutches to greet them. Reggie’s eyes met mine and I could read the sorrow there. He held back for a moment as though he doubted the type of welcome he would receive. I opened my arms as best I could while balancing on the crutches and he came to me, wrapping his arms around my waist and burying his face in the side of my neck. We stood like that for a moment, just drinking in each other’s presence.

Once I felt myself calmed by the solid warmth in my arms, I was able to acknowledge Cecily. “Cecily, thank you so much for bringing him home. Please come in.” I gestured to the doorway.

However she just smiled and shook her head. “I’ll leave you two alone for now as you’ve both had a long trying day.” Speaking now to Reggie, who I could see was about to protest her departure, “I’ll call you tomorrow, hon, so we can set a time to go and pick up your car. Sweet dreams.” She kissed him gently on the cheek.

“Thank you, Cec!” Reggie called after her. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Although the temperature had warmed since the ice storm, the evenings were still chilly and standing on the porch had us both shivering. I turned Reggie towards the door and patted his bottom. “Inside before we both catch a chill.”

Reggie entered the hallway and waited for me to go through the doorway before he closed and locked it behind us. “Let’s go in the kitchen,” I suggested and pointed the way with my raised crutch. He walked slowly ahead of me and stood nervously beside the table as I took a chair. “Go get a couple of bottles of water, honey, then come and sit with me.”

He brought two chilled bottles from the fridge and placed one in front of me before taking the seat opposite to mine. He cracked the seal on his bottle and took a long pull before he sat it back on the table. “Do you need some Tylenol?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, Cecily gave me some already.”

“Are you feeling alright?”

Reggie closed his eyes and let out a faintly whispered, “No, I’m feeling like a jack ass.”

I couldn’t help the small smile that crossed my face. This was my Reggie. “Well I suppose you have cause to feel poorly at the moment. How many beers did you have?”

He hesitated looking thoughtful as if trying to count them off in his mind. His head bowed and he looked up at me sheepishly. “Seven or eight I think.”

I shook my head at this declaration; he’d be feeling this for a while. “Have you eaten anything since breakfast?” His sad headshake got me up to the fridge. He tried to protest that he wasn’t hungry and that he could fix something for himself but I made him stay in the chair and drink his water while I fixed him a ham and cheese sandwich.

He sat and silently finished the sandwich before he spoke again. “Eric, I’m so sorry for what I did. I…”

I cut him off before he could get worked up again. “Not now, babe. We’re both too tired to deal with this now. Let’s go to bed, have a cuddle and then we’ll deal with it tomorrow when we’re fresh.”

It took several minutes of weak protesting on his part and cajoling on my part to get him upstairs, undressed and tucked into bed. But despite his protests, he was sleeping soundly ten minutes later.

Reggie’s P.O.V.

The alcohol in my system combined with the feelings of guilt worked together giving me bizarre dreams throughout the night, but at some point I must have slipped into a deeper sleep, as I was shocked to wake up and find it had gone past nine-thirty. I could hear the sounds of Eric in the kitchen below and the smell of coffee and bacon assailed me. Surprisingly enough I was not feeling too bad, I suppose all the water I drank and the Tylenol had worked its magic. I had a mild headache but knew that it would vanish once I’d eaten.

After I quickly showered and dressed, I headed to the kitchen. I was filled with mixed feelings; part of me longed to be with Eric to feel his quiet strength as he held me, the other part dreading the ‘dealing with my actions’ that was coming.

As I entered the kitchen I was greeted by the sight of Eric standing with his crutches at the stove. I was once again filled with the deep guilt I carried for being the cause of his injury. Eric turned and gave me one of his winning smiles, which I tried to return.

“Morning, sweetheart. Coffee’s ready. Get yourself some and some OJ as well. How’s the head?” he asked.

“Thanks,” I replied. “Head’s not bad at all really. Can I get you coffee or juice?”

He declined and finished scooping the scrambled eggs onto the plates along with the bacon from the warmer and freshly buttered toast. I took the plates to the table and we sat together.

As we ate I tried to screw up my courage to talk to him. “Eric, about yesterday I…”

He cut me off. “Not now, Reggie. We’ll discuss this after we both have a good meal in our stomachs.”

“But I…”

He raised his hand and gave me ‘the look’ I knew enough not to argue with that. He brought up small talk about how poorly the Leafs were playing, weather and the state of the local government. It wasn’t until we’d eaten and had the kitchen tidied up that he was finally prepared to discuss the real issue at hand.

Eric wrapped his arms around my waist and kissed me as he leaned against the counter. “Okay, babe, let’s go into the office and we can talk.”

This trip always reminds me of the film ‘Dead Man Walking’. I feel just like the condemned. Usually Eric walks beside me with his hand on my back to offer some support and I think too make sure I don’t try and make a break for it. But today, hobbling on crutches, he couldn’t provide that bit of security. I had to make this journey unaided by my lover.

We sat as we always do, side by side on the old worn couch. Eric rested his crutches against the wall and took my hands in his. He gave me a reassuring smile. “Reggie, I really need to understand what has been going on with you these last few days. I appreciate that you have been worried about me since I fell and that having to help me has been a strain, but there is something more going one with you, babe, and you need to tell me cuz I still haven’t passed my Top’s mind reading class.”

That’s my Eric, always trying to lighten a difficult moment with a touch of humour. If only it could help with how I was feeling now. “Eric, there is absolutely NO strain involved in helping you. I love you. Taking care of you is my pleasure and joy.” I drew a deep breath; it was time to let out the whole ugly truth. “You deserve so much more than me. I’m such a fuck up. I…”

Eric jumped on that line before another word could be spoken. He pulled me over so fast my head was spinning and landed two very hard swats to my backside. “You will not speak that way about the man I love! Is that clear?”

I was startled and my breath caught in my throat. “I’m sorry…” I choked.

He pulled me upright again and kissed me gently. “Now are you ready to try this again?” he asked.

“You don’t understand, Eric!” I exclaimed.

“Then make me understand, honey. I want to know what the problem is. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll accept you being self-abusive while you’re explaining it.”

I nodded. Self-depreciation was a big issue with Eric. He would never let me run myself down, no matter how much I deserved it. I had to word this in a way that would not set Eric off again before I even finished.

“Your fall, on the porch; well it was my fault. I didn’t clear the ice like I was supposed to. I screwed up and you’re paying for it.” There the words were finally out. I buried my face in my hands, not wanting to see the look on Eric’s face. But there was no hiding from him as his hands gently pulled mine away and his gentle voice commanded me to look at him.

“Reggie, I know for a fact that you cleared the ice. I noticed it as soon as I got out of the car, the place looked great. Also Mrs. T. told me about how you were out clearing our ice and then came over and did hers as well. So what are you talking about?” he asked patiently.

“That’s the problem, don’t you see? I didn’t finish, I was about to salt the steps when Mrs. T. came outside dragging this huge bag of salt. I couldn’t let that sweet old lady take a fall so I went running over and cleared all her ice. Then she invited me in for coffee and cake, you know she makes this really good banana cake. When I came home I forgot to go back and finish the steps. So you see, it’s all my fault. Damn ADHD! I can’t keep my mind from wandering long enough to finish a simple job. I’m so sorry, Eric.”

My eyes were squeezed shut with tears escaping between the closed lids during most of my speech. I couldn’t bear the look of disgust I knew Eric must have had on his face. So I was quite shocked when I felt his arms wrap around me and felt gentle, loving kisses being planted all over my face.

Eric’s P.O.V.

“Oh, baby,” I crooned over and over. “This is what this is all about?” I asked, not really expecting an answer. “You’re telling me that you diligently did all of the salting but stopped at the front steps when our elderly, frail neighbour needed your assistance. That you did her salting for her, accepted her reward of coffee and cake, then came home and did the laundry after that. But you’re carrying some horrible self-imposed guilt because you humanly forgot that you hadn’t finished the last tiny bit of salting at the front? And that now you are blaming yourself and ADHD for a tiny bit of human error?”

“I am to blame, Eric. If I had done the job, you would not have fallen and there is no getting around that,” Reggie mumbled miserably.

I took him by the shoulders and held him back enough for him to look me in the eye. I took my time to speak carefully, to ensure he understood exactly what I meant. “Reggie, I had an accident. I slipped and fell on ice. These things happen all the time. You, my beloved partner, are no more to blame for me falling than I am. Frankly, after a storm like that, I should have been taking more care on steps, watching where I was walking. But I’m not going to waste my time dwelling on what ifs. The facts are my ankle is broken. However, it will heal. But you, my beloved, will not unless you can let go of your guilt and you mean more to me than my ankle or frankly any other body part. Reggie, you are my life, don’t let a small oversight damage the man I love.”

He looked at me with eyes filled with unshed tears. “I love you, Eric.”

“If you truly mean that then grant me this wish and forgive yourself, please.”

He smiled at me and those tears lost the battle and slipped down his cheeks. “I can’t deny you anything.”

We cuddled together for a while just enjoying some loving closeness. However, I knew there were other issues we had to deal with, issues that could be just as damaging. I knew waiting longer would do neither of us any good. So as I sat stroking Reggie’s soft hair, I spoke. “We still need to deal with what happened yesterday, don’t we?” I could feel his slight nod under my hand and feel the tension increase in his body. “You threw yourself a mighty temper tantrum, my lad, and then decided to top that off by running away and getting drunk. Not exactly a shining moment in your life, was it?”

“Not one of my better ones I guess,” he answered. “Eric, I am sorry for what I did and said. Please forgive me.”

“Always, darling. However, we do have rules and consequences in this relationship, don’t we?” He didn’t answer, just nodded solemnly.

‘Get on with this,’ I told myself. Drawing a deep breath, I continued, “Let’s review the facts. You had a problem, which you chose to hide from me. Then you ran away, you turned off your cell phone, and you went way beyond your limit of alcohol consumption. Does that about cover it?” I asked.

His whispered “Yes” was barely audible, but I let it go.

“Okay, let’s get this done.” I encouraged firmly. Reggie knew what was expected and though he may not have appreciated it at the moment, this was what he needed to wipe the slate clean. He stood slowly and undid his jeans, lowering them along with his boxers down his thighs. I pulled him firmly down over my lap and made sure he was positioned properly.

I placed my left arm firmly around his waist and drew him in close. Resting my right hand on the tender skin of his bottom for a moment, I steeled myself then raised it quickly and brought it down smartly on the cheek closest to me. He let out a startled yelp followed by several others as I continued. It always takes a great effort for me to bring this kind of pain to the one I love, but I know it’s what he needs to give him closure and the security of knowing I am in charge.

The spanking proceeded quickly and by the end, his bottom was an even shade of fiery red and he was weeping softly. I pulled him up into my arms and he cried out the last of his tears into my shoulder. We remained together on the sofa for almost an hour, wrapped in the old afghan I had pulled over us, before either of us felt like moving.

We spent the rest of the day together as if attached at the waist, reassuring little touches passing between us every few minutes.

It was another six weeks before I saw the end of that cast. By that time, spring had fully arrived, the tulips had bloomed and ice storms were a rapidly fading memory. The last of Reggie’s guilty feelings faded with the disappearance of the plaster case on my leg. Life with my beloved Brat may not make for a bump-free road, but then it’s all about the journey, isn’t it?

The End

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