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Jess's gaze kept drifting to Ken as the workmen hurried around trying to
complete the office complex. He'd just seen Ken dig his cell phone out of his
pocket. They'd been waiting for the phone call from the division of family
services, either approving Ken as mentor or not. Jess had filled out the
paperwork for the background check but it was still in process.

Jess laughed silently to himself. That his paperwork was still in process was
ironic as he'd felt that he himself was in process. The few weeks that had
passed since Jess had found Kevin, battered and bruised by his father's hands,
in Ken's workshop late one night had been full of discussions and revelations.

Kevin, at 15 years old, was difficult to place in a foster home. People wanted
cute and cuddly babies, not sarcastic, abused, smart mouthed teens. Staying in a
group home for troubled teens had been the only option left for Kevin. Ken
wanted to mentor Kevin. That was fine with Jess. Ken wanted Jess to be a part of
the mentoring. That had been a problem, at least in Jess's mind. Ken saw things
differently. Ken thought that together they could help Kevin. Jess's mind went
back to one of the many discussions they'd had over the past few weeks.

That night he'd been clearing up the kitchen after dinner as Ken talked to Kevin
on the phone. Kevin had been calling every night fluctuating between anger at
Ken for calling family services and clinging to him like a lifeline.

Tonight sounded like Kevin definitely needed the lifeline.

"Kevin, stop. I will explain again and again, until you understand. Calling
family services was the only option….No, I couldn't just give you money….I'm not
abandoning you…Kevin, take a deep breath…I'll be by tomorrow morning…Well, I'm
not thrilled with you calling me a bastard, but it won't stop me from coming to
see you…The paperwork is all filed, we're just waiting for approval…Yes, Mrs.
Lindy was pretty sure we'd be approved…Yes, I'll see you in the morning…Yes, I'm
sure…Kevin, I will be there…OK, bye," Ken said. After hanging up the phone, Ken
turned to Jess.

"Most of the bruising is gone, and they're letting him go back to school in the
morning," Ken explained. "I'm going to pick him up and take him. I want to show
him that I'll keep my word. That he has someone he can count on."

"A week out of school; it's gotta be hard for him to get back in the swing of
things," Jess said.

"Yeah, and the rumors have been flying. I've stopped as many as I could with the
At Risk kids, but until they see him, they'll be suspicious. I've permission
from Mrs. Lindy to bring him home tomorrow after school. I thought a home cooked
meal and a bit of quiet would help him after his first day back."

Jess knew this; they'd talked about Kevin coming to their home after his first
day back at school. The group home was crowded and understaffed. Kevin needed
people focused solely on him.

"I'll camp out in my office tomorrow night," Jess blurted out.

"What? Why would you do that?" Ken asked.

"I'll give you and Kevin time alone."

"No. We'll start as we mean to go on. We are partners; this is your home too.
Kevin needs both of us." Ken was adamant.

"He needs you. He doesn't need me around," Jess said, just as adamant.

"Why not? Why doesn't he need you around?"

Jess threw the dish towel he'd been holding onto the cabinet. Ken was being
deliberately obtuse. "He needs you! Someone who is calm, who can talk to him
without losing his temper. He'll say something, or do something, and I'll lose
my temper."

"No you won't," Ken said with confidence. Walking over to Jess, he wrapped his
arms around him. "And if you do, it won't be the end of the world. Kevin needs
to see that someone losing their temper doesn't mean he's on the receiving end
of a fist."

Bringing his arms up to break the hug Ken had enveloped him in, Jess pushed Ken
back. "God damn it, Ken! He's been through enough. He doesn't need someone like
me screwing things up for him."

"Someone like you?" Ken questioned. "What kind of someone are you? Someone who
is what? Weak? A wimp?"

"Yes, damn it! Look, I've already turned this around to be about me! You should
be focused on Kevin! He sure as hell doesn't need to see this shit! I can't be
the weak link."

"I'm focused on all of us. We are going to be a team, a family. Everyone
matters. No one is the weak link. Go get the paddle."

Jess opened his mouth to continue his argument when the last sentence penetrated
his thoughts. "What?"

"Go get the paddle," Ken said almost conversationally.

The argument flew out of his head at Ken's words. "There's no need for the
paddle, Ken. I didn't say I was weak, I'm just saying I've never done anything
like this before. I'll just follow your lead." He tried to backpedal fast.

"Good. Follow my lead and go get the paddle like I told you to," Ken said

Jess's stomach clenched as he went to the bedroom to get the piece of wood. Ken
was scary as fuck, Jess thought. He didn't raise his voice; his face didn't
flush; there were no big visible signs. Unless you knew him as well as Jess did.
Then the look in Ken's eyes, the tone of his voice, and the solid presence of
him pulled Jess out of any thoughts but that Ken was in charge.

In the bedroom, Jess went to the closet that held the little wooden box that
housed the paddle. Opening it and reaching for the requested item, his hand
ghosted over other things. Things they used in play, their sex life never boring
or routine. The little black leather paddle that never clenched his stomach in
the same way as the wooden one suddenly caught his eye. That one brought a nice
sting to his ass. Ken used it like a maestro bringing him to the edge, then
using his hands, dick, and mouth to push him over. Quickly grabbing the wooden
one, Jess slammed the lid closed.

Ken would push him over the edge, but it wasn't the same cliff. The wooden
paddle was used for discipline, for atonement, and according to Ken, to build
Jess back up. Jess shook his head. It worked. He didn't know how or why, he just
knew it did. The calmness, the feeling of being centered, of his inner turmoil
being quieted was in some way linked to this piece of wood, but more so to the
man that wielded it. The man who was waiting in the kitchen.

Hurrying back to the kitchen, Jess held the paddle out to Ken. He was determined
to show him that he wasn't a coward; that he'd accept Ken's discipline.

"No, I want you to hold it," Ken said, keeping his hands at his side.

"What? Why?" Jess didn't want to hold the deceptive looking piece of wood.

"You, Jess, are a hands-on kind of man. The kind of man who works with his
hands, who likes to have my hands on his body, who thinks better when his hands
are occupied. I'm sure there is some kind of technical term for it: tactile
sensory processing or some such bullshit. I call it focusing."

"You've got to be kidding me. You want me to have a conversation with you,
holding this?" Jess held out the paddle.

"Look at me, Jess. Do I look like I'm kidding?"

Jess looked at Ken's face. Ken's face was slightly weather beaten, some might
think it a hard face; Jess saw love and understanding but no kidding was

"I told you that every time you called yourself weak, or diminished yourself in
any way, I'd build you back up with the paddle. Have a seat," Ken said, sitting

Jess continued to hold the paddle as he sat down at their table.
"Kevin and I'll start dinner since we'll be home before you," Ken said.

"OK," Jess said baffled. He was listening to Ken closely as he held the paddle.

"What time do you think you'll be home?" Ken asked.

"Around 5:30, no later than 6:00."

"That'll work out well. We can get a start on his homework while we fix dinner,"
Ken said, then giving a small laugh continued, "Don't worry. We'll leave
Literature for you."

Jess smiled at how well Ken knew him. Jess was an avid reader, Literature class
being one of his favorites when in high school and college. The ability to
escape from his own reality into another had always brought pleasure to Jess.

"You know what he's reading?" Jess asked. The paddle twirled gently in his hand,
not at the forefront of his mind, but not dismissed either.

"I think it's Hammer, or Hatchet. Something like that. I know the kids were
talking about it last week," Ken said.

"Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. Great book. I must have read it a hundred times,"
Jess remembered.

They continued to talk about how the coming night would go; delegating
responsibilities, drawing on each other's strengths. Ken had made a pot of
coffee as Jess talked about running by the bookstore during lunch to buy a copy
of the required reading.

Jess unconsciously laid the paddle on the table as he reached for the cup Ken
held out to him. Soon the talk turned to books they'd each read and movies that
came from books; a light hearted argument ensued. Jess tried to convince Ken
that it was better to watch the movie first than read the book, but Ken argued
that there was no point in reading the book if he'd already watched the movie.

Shaking his head at Ken's reasoning, Jess stood up. "It's almost midnight. Shit,
where'd the night go. I'm gonna jump in the shower, wanna join me?"

"Put this away first," Ken said pushing the paddle toward Jess.

Jess had forgotten all about it. He felt the color climb into his face. "Oh. Um,
you want me to put it away?"

"Yeah. I think it did the trick, don't you?" Ken asked. "I can put it to use if
you're not sure."

Jess laughed, "No, it did the trick. I'm sure. I'd really rather you pounded my
ass in another way."

After putting away the paddle, Jess had received a pounding from Ken; one that
left him breathless and in no doubt of Ken's love for him. Jess gave as good as
he got, and he'd made sure Ken reached his climax soon after his own. He'd been
sent to get the paddle again several days later and Ken had used it, but that
night just holding it had calmed him.

The feel of someone looking at him brought Jess back to the present. Focusing on
Ken, Jess felt as though his lungs had quit working when their eyes locked
together. The intensity of the look, and the burn of emotion in Ken's eyes took
Jess breath away. A slow smile spread across Ken's face as he walked toward him.

"It's official," Ken said. "We've been approved as mentors. Let's pick him up
tonight, and go celebrate with pizza."

Jess couldn't help the smile that grew on his own face and he nodded agreement.
Jess knew he'd be able to handle it. And if he ever doubted himself, Ken would
be there. Along with a piece of wood in the shape of a paddle in the closet
waiting to convince him.

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