A Place of Safety ~ Chapter 10: Taking Responsibility

Dominic had been keeping himself busy at work completing the specifications and costings for the Manchester project so he’d had no time during the day to worry about the fate of James Evans, the young man who’d been missing for over two weeks. Night time was a different matter, however, and he’d woken several times in the grip of nightmares in which his own identity became merged with that of the missing man and he relived all the fear and anguish of being restrained and abused by his captor. His distress always brought Jude to an immediate state of wakefulness, ready to soothe and reassure, and it was only as Dominic became aware that he was safe in Jude’s firm embrace that he was able to fall back into fitful slumber.

It was a couple more days before the news story broke. First the good news that Mr Evans had been found uninjured, although there were no public appearances nor interviews with journalists. Then there was film of a man being taken into custody. Jude and Dominic watched the story unfold on the early evening news and there was no mistaking the identity of the suspect being escorted in handcuffs towards a waiting police car. It was Chris Wilkins. Even more distressing for Dominic was the fact that the location of the arrest was unmistakable. The police were outside Wilkins’s house with its distinctive garage; the windows of the room in the roof were clearly visible.

Dominic made no comment after the news item ended and Jude could only coax monosyllabic replies from him for the rest of the evening. He seemed to shrink into himself and appeared positively fearful at the prospect of going to bed. Once under the quilt, he lay rigidly still for so long that Jude began to get worried and reached out to rub his tense shoulders and back. The impromptu massage finally broke through Dominic’s defences and, as his muscles relaxed, he was gripped by violent shivering which wracked his whole body.

“It’s all right,” Jude said quietly. “You’re all right; you’re safe; you’re with me. Relax; let it out; let it happen.” It was the tone rather than the words which had a calming effect on Dominic. When he stopped trying to control his shivering, the intensity of his body’s response to a nonexistent threat began to diminish and, in the dark of the bedroom, he found he was able to put into words some of the fears and emotions he’d been suppressing throughout the evening.

“Did you see?” he asked. “Wilkins is still living in the same house. Do you think he’s been holding James Evans in the garage all this time?”

“I’ve been asking myself the same question, love, but we contacted the police days ago. I can’t believe it would have taken so long to rescue the man if Wilkins was holding him in the upstairs room we described to the detective.”

“All I can think of is that poor young man. His face is imprinted in my mind from the pictures in the papers and on television. I just keep imagining him tied to that table, with the straps around his body while Wilkins…” Whatever it was that Dominic was imagining Wilkins doing to his victim, he couldn’t bring himself to describe it to Jude. His voice trailed off and he took a shuddering breath which heralded the onset of unstoppable tears. Normally too embarrassed to cry in front of anyone else, Dominic tried to choke back his emotion but his body won the struggle against his will and the tears ran unchecked down his cheeks. Jude pulled gently on Dominic’s shoulders to turn him against his own chest. He could feel the dampness of Dominic’s cheek where it came to rest against his neck, he could hear the ragged breathing which revealed the struggle to suppress further weeping and he felt the occasional shudder when a quiet sob escaped the distraught young man.

Jude just held Dominic, knowing that there was nothing he could say to lessen his anguish but hoping that a firm and loving embrace would convey comfort and reassurance. When he sensed that Dominic was becoming calmer he spoke softly. “There’s no need to upset yourself imagining the worst. We don’t know where Mr Evans was held and we don’t know what happened to him. None of this was your fault.”

Jude had unerringly hit upon the very issues which were in the forefront of Dominic’s mind. “I can’t help thinking about what must have happened to him,” Dominic said despairingly. “I keep seeing it all in my mind’s eye taking place in that upstairs room above the garage. If I’d reported Wilkins to the police when you wanted me to, none of this would have happened.”

Jude came to a sudden decision and reached over to turn on the bedside light. As his partner turned away, Dominic hastily scrubbed his face with the sleeve of his pyjama jacket, anxious to erase all trace of tear stains from his cheeks. When Jude propped his pillow against the headboard to make a backrest, Dominic did the same and the two men sat up. Dominic knew from Jude’s demeanour that he was about to embark upon a serious talk and he tried to pull himself together and concentrate.

“This has all brought back some terrible memories for you, Dominic. I can quite understand why you keep imagining what Wilkins might have done but, in my experience, imagination can come up with far worse scenarios than actual reality. I want to suggest that we contact the police in the morning and ask if they will give us more information about where this man has been held and what happened to him. How do you feel about that? I think you’ll be better knowing the truth rather than allowing dreadful images to fill your mind.”

“Do you think the police will be willing to tell us anything?”

“I don’t know, love. Clearly we provided vital evidence and I’m hoping that will mean that we get special treatment. How do you feel about asking for more details about the case?”

“I’m not sure. Now you’ve mentioned the possibility of finding out what really happened I think I’d like to know the truth but… but… I’m scared.”

“I can understand that. It’s a natural reaction to be scared but you might be able to cope better in the long run if you face up to the facts now. I suspect it’s all going to come out during the trial anyway.”

“If you think it will help, I’m willing to try. I’m just thinking that I could ring Rachel. She gave me her card and told me to get in touch if I thought of anything else or if I just wanted to talk to her.”

“She did seem the most compassionate of the police officers we dealt with. I’m sure she’ll understand your need to know what Wilkins did to his victim. How about you ring her first thing in the morning and see if we can book a time to go and see her.”


“Well, now we’ve got a plan of action for tomorrow, do you think you’ll be able to get to sleep tonight?” When Dominic seemed unable to provide an answer he added, “Come and cuddle up to me. You know how I like holding you.” This invitation gave Dominic an excuse to accept the comfort he craved but was often too embarrassed to claim.

Jude turned out the light and slipped down the bed, gently urging Dominic into his arms. He felt the young man begin to relax as, exhausted from the bout of tears, his breathing slowed to the regular rhythm which indicated the onset of sleep.  It wasn’t an entirely restful night. Dominic never knew how often Jude woke to soothe him when he started thrashing about or moaning in his sleep. When a particularly vivid nightmare brought Dominic to a shivering state of wakefulness, Jude went downstairs to make two mugs of hot chocolate and the sweet, creamy drink helped them both settle for what remained of the night.

Over breakfast Dominic made clear that he was happy to take responsibility for contacting the police. He telephoned DS Rachel McIntosh from work, half hoping she would say that the police were unable to disclose any information at that time. When she offered the two of them an appointment for later in the day he didn’t know whether to feel anxious or relieved. As was his custom when under pressure, Dominic sought to escape worry by immersing himself in his work. When Sarah Powell came over to his desk mid morning to invite him to join her for coffee he turned down the obvious invitation to take a break with barely a glance up from his paperwork. Sarah suspected Dominic had hit a problem with his current project and she didn’t take offence at her friend’s preoccupied manner. She’d got used to his tendency to block out all distractions when focusing on a problem so she temporarily left him to his work, noting that he looked very tense.

Not many minutes elapsed before Sarah returned carrying two cups of coffee and a couple of chocolate digestives from the office biscuit tin. She plonked them down on Dominic’s desk and went to get a chair to pull up beside his own.

“It does you no good to bury yourself in your work when you’re so worried,” she observed in a matter of fact tone. “You need to take a break.”

This time Dominic pushed his papers away to make space for the coffee cup and biscuit Sarah was offering. He turned to face her and asked with genuine puzzlement, “How do you know that I’m worried?”

“Didn’t I tell you to start trusting that the people who love you can understand your emotions?”

“Do you love me?” he asked in surprise.

“Of course I do, Dominic. You’re my friend; I enjoy your company; we have interests in common. I love your innocence and your enthusiasm; I love your good looks and charm, your loyalty and your devotion. And, yes,” Sarah added, laughing, “I do know that you belong to Jude Merrow. By the way, did you ever tell him what I said about learning to trust those who love you?”

A slow blush spread across Dominic’s features. Sarah misinterpreted his reaction but she could hardly be expected to guess the cause of his discomfiture. He was remembering that he had actually gasped out Sarah’s reproach whilst upturned over Jude’s lap.

“You didn’t tell him, did you?” she accused in a teasing tone.

“Oh yes, I did,” responded Dominic promptly and there was something about his manner which made Sarah suspect that there was more going on than he was disclosing. If it was something to do with his relationship with Jude Merrow she didn’t want to pry. She guessed that Mr Merrow had given his young partner a piece of his mind about being more open and trusting, and in Sarah’s view that was no bad thing.

“So what are you worried about?” she asked with a deft return to the earlier subject. “Is there a problem with the Manchester project?”

“No, no, that’s all going well. I’ve been worrying about James Evans… you know, the man who was being held by Wilkins. It’s been worst at night. I’ve been dreaming about being trapped in that room. Sometimes I’m the one being held; sometimes I’m watching while Wilkins does dreadful things to that young man.” Dominic shivered and Sarah instinctively put her hand over his. “Jude says I’ll be better for knowing precisely what happened and I think he’s probably right. My imagination conjures up dreadful images and the facts will be easier to deal with. We’re going to speak to a police officer after work today.”

“I do hope that goes well, Dominic. You know I’m always here for you if you want someone to talk to.”

“Thanks, Sarah… and,” Dominic looked a trifle embarrassed. He didn’t quite know how to express his appreciation. “…I do know that you understand my emotions, even when I’m confused myself. I do trust you to understand me.”

Sarah appreciated that Dominic’s halting admission represented a significant step forward in his ability to relate to others but she made no comment, just gave his hand a comforting squeeze. She hoped that his meeting with the police officer would bring him some peace of mind.

Jude and Dominic left work early so they would be in good time for their appointment.  Dominic could not disguise his agitation during the train journey out of London but Jude remained calm, asking questions about the acquisition of computers for the new Manchester office. The conversation forced Dominic to turn his mind to work related issues which prevented him from getting upset before they arrived at the police station.  There they found Rachel waiting for them at the reception desk ready to escort them directly to an interview room. She seemed attuned to Dominic’s mood and spoke with calm authority as she assured him that the police understood his anxieties and were willing to answer any questions he might have.

“We saw Wilkins being arrested,” Dominic said. “It was on the news. Was he keeping his victim in that upstairs room?”

“Christopher Wilkins has been arrested and charged with false imprisonment and assault,” Rachel confirmed. “He was apprehended at the address you gave us. Thank you for providing the police with such vital information.”

“We thought he would have moved on, didn’t we Jude? I can’t believe he did exactly the same thing as he did to me. How come it took you so long to rescue Mr Evans?”

Rachel avoided answering Dominic’s direct question, “You gave us a very good description of that upstairs room, Mr McAvinchey,” she said. “I wonder if I could ask you to provide a few more details of the layout.” Her request struck Jude as a little odd, given that the police now had access to the prison in the garage.

“Why does Dominic need to provide further information?” Jude asked politely, anxious to protect his partner from unnecessary stress. “We came here to get information from you. I think it would help Dominic if you could set his mind at rest by letting us know how Wilkins’s latest victim is doing.”

“I can assure you that the young man in question has suffered no lasting injury. He made it very clear that he consented to becoming Wilkins’s sex slave — I’m using his own term here. What he hadn’t expected was that he would be kept permanently locked up. When his requests to be released were ignored he knew that members of his family and colleagues from work would eventually raise the alarm. He didn’t know that he had become the focus of a nationwide hunt but Wilkins certainly knew that the police were closing in on him.”

“What would Wilkins have done if you hadn’t caught him?” asked Dominic with a shudder.

“I think you’re imagining something terrible, Dominic,” said Rachel, “but, thank God, we were able to rescue Mr Evans before Wilkins did any serious harm. Now we’re anxious to make sure that Wilkins goes to prison for a good long time to protect other vulnerable young men from his predatory behaviour.”

“Is that why you want a bit more information about the room in the garage?” Dominic enquired astutely.

“It would be helpful to have a very precise picture of what it looked like when you were kept there, yes,” Rachel conceded.  “Do you think you could work with a police artist to create a picture of the room?”

“I could draw it for you,” Dominic offered at once, to Jude’s surprise. He wasn’t aware that Dominic had artistic talent but he was forced to revise that assessment when Dominic set to work.  With bold lines and skilled use of perspective he created a precise picture of the upstairs room with its sloping ceiling and windows in the roof. The image owed more to scientific accuracy than artistic licence and, when Dominic began to add the furnishings, he inserted labelling lines in standard laboratory style. These marked the location of the hooks on which Wilkins had hung his canes, straps and floggers, the position of the spanking bench and the table with its leather restraints, and the site of the St Andrew’s Cross against the far wall. Jude watched the picture take shape and realised that Dominic must be working from a photographic memory. Jude’s own recollections were blurred because of his haste to free Dominic from bondage and get him to a place of safety but Dominic himself had had time for the features of his prison to become imprinted on his memory. Jude suspected that this had happened without conscious thought on Dominic’s part.

When Dominic wordlessly handed the finished picture over to Rachel she took one appreciative look before asking Dominic to sign and date it and then she countersigned it herself. The significance of this procedure wasn’t lost on Jude. “Is this drawing going to be used in evidence? Surely you have photographs of the upstairs room.”

“It doesn’t look like this.”

“What?” gasped Dominic.

“We found it empty apart from some boxes of junk, a few woodworking tools and some gardening implements.”

“Wasn’t he keeping his victim imprisoned up there?” enquired Jude as Dominic seemed too shocked to ask the obvious question.

“No; that explains the delay in finding him. We took your tip off very seriously and gained access to the upstairs room almost immediately. Luckily Wilkins was absent at the time and we were able to cover our tracks when we found no trace of the missing man. It was then a question of following Wilkins until he led us to James Evans but that proved a rather more difficult task than we’d hoped. After the footage of Wilkins leaving the club in his sports car was shown on television it became clear he was taking care not to be followed.”

“Where was he keeping Mr Evans imprisoned?”

“We haven’t released that information to the media. It will come out at the trial but I would ask you to keep secret what I’m about to tell you. We found Mr Evans in a rented lock up garage some distance from Wilkins’s house. It seems he had moved his collection of bondage gear to the lock up.” Rachel paused as Dominic sank his head into his hands. He was momentarily overwhelmed by the thought of the young man tied up on his own in a lock up garage. Somehow that seemed a worse fate than being imprisoned in the upstairs room. When Dominic appeared to have recovered his equilibrium, Rachel went on to ask the question which she’d been building up to and could no longer postpone. “We were wondering whether you’d be prepared to visit Wilkins’s house and formally identify where you were held. It would also help if you could identify the furniture and implements in the lock up as coming from Wilkins’s property.”

“Dominic has already indicated that he doesn’t wish to press charges against Wilkins,” said Jude firmly. “I can’t see how a visit to Wilkins’s house is going to serve police interests unless you’re expecting Dominic to appear as a witness.”

Rachel made no comment and Jude’s observation hung in the air.

“Would it help secure a conviction if I gave evidence in court?” asked Dominic shakily.

“It might. Wilkins’s will undoubtedly argue that Mr Evans stayed with him voluntarily and his barrister could well discredit one victim. A second witness would make the prosecution case much stronger.”

“I won’t have Dominic pressurised…” Jude began but Dominic cut in.

“Can I think about it?” he asked.

“Of course you can,” Rachel agreed. “You won’t be forced to give evidence if you don’t want to.  Please, take your time to think about it and to discuss it with your partner,” she added with a glance at Jude.

“Yes,” Dominic agreed, “we need to discuss it but I’ll go to Wilkins’s house now if you want. I want to identify where I was held.”

“Are you sure?” Jude asked him quietly. Rachel turned away to ask the uniformed constable at the door to take Dominic’s drawing to be photocopied and to arrange for a car and a driver to be on standby.

“I want to help put Wilkins away,” Dominic explained to Jude. “He can’t be allowed to do this again. I don’t mind going back to the place where I was held. I think it’ll help me lay some ghosts if I stand in that room once more. I want to do it.” Jude nodded. He could understand Dominic’s feelings and he respected the young man’s right to make this difficult decision for himself. He was determined, however, to remain close to his partner, to monitor Dominic’s reactions and to try and ensure that he wasn’t faced with more than he could handle.

The journey to Wilkins’s house took place in silence. Rachel sat in the front of the car with a police driver and Jude and Dominic sat in the back. Jude allowed his leg to rest against Dominic’s just to maintain physical contact and when Dominic began to jiggle his limbs in agitation Jude discreetly reached for his hand and interlaced his fingers with Dominic’s. He was surprised to feel an uncharacteristic, cold clamminess which testified to the extent of Dominic’s fear but, when they got out of the car, Dominic hid his agitation well.

Other police officers were already present at the house, including one with a camera who followed them into the garage. Wilkins’s black Z4 was still parked there and Dominic mentioned that he had sat in the passenger seat on his first visit. “We haven’t yet tested the vehicle for fingerprints or for traces of DNA,” Rachel said. “Would you be prepared to give us a DNA sample and to undergo fingerprinting to see if we can positively place you in the car?”  Dominic just nodded his assent.

When they reached the staircase to the upper room Dominic halted and explained that the door was usually locked and the key kept on a hook hidden behind the lower treads. Jude confirmed that he had had to locate the key before he was able to free Dominic. They both went unerringly to the correct location and pointed out the hook, although the key was absent. The photographer took pictures and Rachel made notes in her police pocket book.

When they ascended the stairs, they found the door on the landing standing open. Dominic stepped across the threshold first and stood looking round the room that had been his prison. It was stripped of all the paraphernalia which Wilkins had installed and somehow that neutralised some of the terror for Dominic. He glanced at the rusty garden tools, the power drill and socket set and felt he could be in any nondescript, suburban garage.  He walked the length of the room and examined the far wall which had supported the St Andrew’s Cross. He was able to make out the scuff marks where the cross beams had rubbed against the paint. Rachel, who was studying a copy of Dominic’s drawing which she had attached to a clipboard, called the police photographer over to make a visual record of the marks which provided further verification of Dominic’s accuracy. Should there be any remaining doubt about the fact that Dominic had been in this room before, the hooks on the wall which had held Wilkins’s flogging implements were there for all to see, precisely the same number of hooks as Dominic had marked so meticulously on his diagram.

During the short journey from Wilkins’s house to the lock up garage Dominic was more talkative. He asked Rachel for further information about James Evans and pressed for details of the abuse he’d undergone. Rachel was reassuring but guarded in her replies. When the driver pulled off the road and negotiated a narrow alley leading to a block of garages, Dominic fell silent and looked intently at the scene. Each garage had a large padlock on the door and the one at the end of the row was isolated by crime scene tape. A uniformed constable was standing guard outside and he lifted the tape as the car drew up and all four occupants got out.

Jude put a protective arm across Dominic’s back as the two men followed Rachel to the lock up. She had come equipped with the key and, when she opened the up and over door and turned on the light, the place of James Evans’s captivity was finally revealed. There was a smell of damp, and something more unpleasant, in the airless, dirty space. Rotting remains of take away food and its packaging were strewn on the concrete floor and a bucket, which had clearly served as a makeshift lavatory, stood in the corner. Dominic ignored the surroundings and walked straight to the table equipped with leather restraints.

“This is it,” he announced in an unemotional monotone. “This is the table I was tied to.” He looked around and identified the implements he was looking for lying discarded on the floor. “This is the flogger Wilkins used on me,” he said, pointing to a heavy leather whip with a wooden handle, “and that… that’s a cattle prod. Wilkins used that… he used that on…” Dominic’s iron self control was beginning to crumble. Heedless of the curious gaze of the police constable on guard duty, Jude drew Dominic into his arms and felt his partner’s body go into a spasm of shuddering. Jude held him tightly and tried to reassure him by running a hand through his hair and caressing his neck. Instead of stepping away in embarrassment like the police driver, Rachel moved closer to the two men and placed a comforting arm across Dominic’s shoulders.

“You’ve done so well, Dominic,” she said. “You’ve been so brave and so helpful. Your identification is going to help the prosecution case immensely. We’re very grateful that you agreed to come here and I can see how proud your partner is of you.”  The latter observation brought Dominic’s head up in astonishment and he looked into Jude’s eyes for confirmation.

“Proud doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Jude said quietly, knowing that he’d be enduringly grateful to Rachel for saying precisely the right thing. “You amaze me with your courage.”

Dominic visibly straightened on hearing his partner’s praise and squared his shoulders. “What else do you need me to do while I’m here?” he asked, turning to Rachel.

“There’s not much more to do. It would be helpful if you could identify any other items which you recognise in the garage and we’ll take a short statement from you when we get back to the station. If you don’t feel up to doing that today, I’ll arrange to have you taken home and we can fix another time.”

“No, I’d rather get it all over today. I’ll have a lot to think about when I get home.”

When all the formalities were completed and Jude and Dominic finally got back to their own home, they sank down together on the sofa and sat quietly for a little while.

“Did that help at all?” Jude asked finally. “Do you think that revisiting the place where you were held is going to help you get over the experience?”

“Yes, I do,” replied Dominic honestly. “It just seemed like an empty room today. There was nothing there to be afraid of. I feel more sorry for James Evans. It must have been terrible to be imprisoned in that filthy lock up; he must have wondered if he’d ever be found. I wonder what it felt like when Wilkins went away and left him there. I wonder if he tried shouting for help. No one would have heard, would they?”

“There’s no need for you to be speculating about that,” said Jude firmly. “The young man was released and now he’s safe and well. It was your information that enabled the police to find him so you’ve nothing to reproach yourself over and nothing to worry about.”

“If I’d gone to the police in the first place, as you wanted me to, perhaps Mr Evans wouldn’t have finished up in that situation.”

“And what were the chances of a successful prosecution when you hadn’t even been reported missing and we had no evidence to support claims that you’d been held against your will?” Jude pointed out, putting the opposing point of view in a way which gave Dominic pause for thought.

“But the police want me to give evidence now.”

“Are you happy to do that?”

“Not happy exactly but I’ll do it if it will help put Wilkins away. I’ll have to warn my mother though.”

“You’ve got plenty of time to think about that. The trial will be months away and we don’t yet know whether the prosecution will need to call you to give evidence.”

“I don’t mind so much now if Mum finds out what happened, not now that she knows about me… that I’m gay, I mean, and that I’m living with you. I just don’t want her to be upset at the thought of what I went through. I’d hate that.”

“I’d hate to see her upset too. I’m sure we’ll be able to protect her from the worst if you’re called as a witness.”

Jude’s positive tone gave Dominic confidence and he leant back on the sofa and relaxed against his partner’s shoulder. That night Dominic slept right through without disturbance, much to Jude’s surprise. He had feared that the sights they’d seen that day would dwell in Dominic’s subconscious, to be transformed into night time terrors. When they both woke, refreshed and well rested, Jude allowed himself to hope that Dominic had indeed laid some of his ghosts to rest.

At work, Dominic threw himself with renewed energy and enthusiasm into the task of equipping the new Manchester office. Jude suggested they eat out some evenings or take in a film on the way home and, one day, Sarah invited Dominic to join her and her boyfriend for a concert at The Royal Festival Hall. Dominic went first to check that Jude had nothing planned for that evening, never realising that both Jude and Sarah were colluding in an attempt to fill his leisure time. In the event, Dominic had a wonderful outing to The South Bank, transported by the music and entertained during the interval by Sarah and Michael. The latter didn’t seem so anxious to impress now that he and Sarah were seeing one another regularly. Even Dominic couldn’t mistake Sarah’s pleasure in Michael’s company and he found himself warming to her new boyfriend. They were soon laughing as Michael teased him about the semi pornographic images on the plate they’d helped him buy for Jude at Christmas. By the end of the evening Sarah felt that, far from fretting about recent events, Dominic was more responsive and at ease in company than she’d ever known him to be.

When the task of installing the computing hardware in the Manchester office was almost complete, Dominic planned one further site visit to get everything up and running before the office went into full time operation. It was intended to be a short visit but, at the end of the second day, he telephoned Jude from the hotel to say that things weren’t proving as straightforward as he’d hoped and he would have to extend his stay in Manchester. He seemed reluctant to elaborate and Jude could hear the dejection and tiredness in his tone so he didn’t press for answers, just tried to sound warm and encouraging as he wished Dominic goodnight.

In the end, Dominic spent four days in Manchester and left after lunch on his final day. There was nothing more to be done in the new office for the time being and he wanted to get home early. Throughout the drive south he berated himself for his stupidity in not foreseeing the problem which had derailed the project and as he entered the house he erupted with fury, flinging his bag across the hall with such force that it hit the wall and gouged a track all down the plaster. The sight of this damage to the home he shared with Jude severed the last threads of Dominic’s self control. He shouted obscenities as he kicked off his shoes and flung his coat and scarf to the floor before stomping upstairs to the bedroom.

Coming in the front door less than half an hour later, Jude took in the sight of his partner’s bag and outdoor clothing strewn across the hall, as well as the damage to the plasterwork. The fact that Dominic had made no attempt to clear up his belongings or to camouflage the scrape on the wall sent out a very clear signal that the young man was spinning out of control. Jude wondered whether Dominic was issuing a deliberate cry for help or whether he was just too far gone to realise what an impact this mess would make on his partner, but he no sooner framed the question in his mind than he decided that it was an irrelevance. Jude doubted whether Dominic, who had clearly walked into the house in a fury, would be in a fit state to analyse his own motives, let alone act on them. What was needed at that point was a resolute response to Dominic’s behaviour and Jude was sure that he could deliver what his partner needed.

“Dominic McAvinchey, come down here at once,” he shouted, just loud enough for his voice to be heard through the closed bedroom door. There was something about the determination in Jude’s tone, as well as a slight hint of repressed anger, that penetrated Dominic’s defences. He had allowed himself to become so overwhelmed by rage and self recrimination that he was lying face down on the bed, blocking out all sense of his surroundings. In as much as he was thinking coherently at all, he was obsessively rerunning his calculations for the Manchester office and then groaning in exasperation as he confronted his mistake for the umpteenth time. He’d been so immersed in his own misery and fury that he hadn’t heard the front door open but the determination he heard in his partner’s voice convinced him not to wait for a second call.

He walked slowly downstairs. Unable to raise his eyes to meet Jude’s he was condemned to focus on the hall floor which was strewn with his belongings. “I’m sorry,” he said, struggling to control his anger and trying for a placatory tone, “I’ll pick everything up. I was in a shitty mood when I got in and just flung my stuff down. I’m sorry for making such a mess.” He matched his actions to his words and bent to retrieve his coat, scarf and shoes, taking his time to put them away in the hall closet. Without consciously planning to deceive Jude he somehow hoped that if he was sufficiently contrite and cooperative his partner wouldn’t probe too deeply into the cause of his foul mood. He was therefore rather disconcerted to find Jude still standing resolutely and expectantly in the hall when he stepped out of the closet.

He glanced apprehensively at his partner and then, without speaking, walked over to pick up his bag. Its weight had caused it to ricochet off the wall and travel the length of the hallway to come to rest against the living room door. As he walked shamefacedly back towards Jude he stopped to run his hand down the mark on the wall, assessing the extent of the damage to the plaster. This time he managed to drag his eyes up to look Jude squarely in the face. “I’ll pay to get that repaired,” he promised.

“No, you won’t,” Jude replied evenly. “You’ll repair it yourself.”

“But… but I don’t know how,” Jude objected.

“Then you’ll have to learn. You can go down to the hardware store at the weekend and buy filler and sandpaper. You’ll also need to get enough paint to cover the whole wall so the repair doesn’t show.”

“I’ve never done anything like that before. I’m afraid I’ll make a mess of it.”

“Then you’ll redo it until you get it right. It’s as simple as that, Dominic.” Jude didn’t seem angry but he showed no signs of relenting.

“I’m so sorry I damaged your house, Jude,” Dominic said in a small voice.

“It’s your house as much as mine now. It’s time you learnt to look after it.”

“Will you help me fix the damage?” Jude enquired, uncertain whether he was permitted to ask for help with what was clearly intended as a punishment.

“Of course.  I’ll give you all the advice you need but you’re going to be the one doing the work.” Dominic nodded his acceptance of a penalty he couldn’t claim was unfair. “Now take your bag upstairs and unpack. Don’t forget to put your dirty clothes out for washing. Then come down here as quickly as you can. We need to talk about the reason for this temper tantrum.”

Dominic winced as he realised that Jude knew precisely how he was feeling, despite his attempt at suppressing all signs of anger and showing only a contrite face to his partner. Worse than that, Jude not only saw through his subterfuge, he was clearly intent on extracting a full account of what had caused him to return home in such a state. Dominic bristled at the thought of being quizzed, resentment overcoming all good resolutions about being open and honest with his partner. He had spent half the journey home working out how he was going to explain what had gone wrong in Manchester. He’d taken the decision to report to his boss, Jude Merrow, in the office in the morning and he didn’t want to embark on a recital of his failings that evening. He directed one venomous look at Jude before hefting his bag and marching upstairs.

His show of defiance wasn’t lost on Jude who now understood exactly what was going on with his partner so he didn’t take it personally. He was sure that Dominic was blaming himself for some failure in Manchester and that all his fury was directed at himself. Dominic was much given to self reproach and was capable of working himself up into such a state of anguish that he was unable to see how his perfectionism had skewed his judgement. Jude decided that his first task was to identify what had gone wrong; in his experience things were rarely as bad as Dominic imagined. His second task was to redirect Dominic’s anger and self recrimination into a positive strategy for putting things right. Dominic would require firm handling to get him to open up and share his failings, his fears and his anger but Jude was in no doubt that he would be able to persuade Dominic to talk. There was no point in worrying about their workplace relationship becoming entangled with their home life. This was clearly an occasion when the boundaries had become blurred and Jude resolved to brook no delay or opposition from Dominic.

Upstairs, Dominic took as long as he dared to unpack his bag and sort out his dirty washing. He used the time to stoke his resentment and renew his determination to deal with his problem in his own way. He rationalised his decision to save the talking until the two of them were in the office by telling himself that he was doing the adult thing in keeping his working life separate from his home life. In fact, his stubborn resolve to remain silent sprang from a subconscious desire to suffer for his fault by denying himself the comfort of Jude’s support and reassurance at home. He closed his ears to the insistent little voice at the back of his head telling him that he had fought this battle with Jude before, that he’d lost every time and that things were going to end badly if he held out yet again.

As he came downstairs Jude called to him from the sitting room, “I’m in here, Dominic. Come and join me; we need to talk.”

Dominic squared his shoulders as he entered the room and walked with a casual air over to the sofa. Sitting down he announced authoritatively, “There’s nothing to talk about. I had a rotten time in Manchester and I came home in a bad mood. I’ve said I’m sorry for the mess I made in the hall and I’ll do my best to repair the damage. There’s nothing more to be said.”

There must have been something amiss with Dominic’s authoritative manner because it made no noticeable impression on Jude who was determined to give Dominic no room for manoeuvre. “You can get up and go and stand in that corner until you’ve settled down,” he instructed. “When you’re ready to talk about what’s got you so upset and angry you have only to tell me.”

“I’m not upset and angry,” shouted Dominic, giving the lie to his words. “I made a mistake in Manchester, that’s all. I’ll tell you about it in the office tomorrow. Now get off my back.”

“I won’t tolerate shouting and abuse, Dominic. I’ve asked you to stand in the corner and I’m waiting for you to comply.” The calm assurance of Jude’s tone was effective in dissuading Dominic from further opposition. He got up with ill concealed anger and headed towards his designated corner where he slouched against the wall. “Stand up straight and put your hands on your head,” Jude ordered.

Dominic turned round, knowing full well that turning round wasn’t allowed, and stared at Jude. “What?” he exclaimed. “I’m not putting my fucking hands on my fucking head. I’m sick of you ordering me about. I’m not doing it.”

Jude got up without a word, walked over to Dominic and gently turned him back into the corner. He left his hands on Dominic’s shoulders and he could feel the faint trembling which revealed how overwrought his partner had become. Outright defiance was unusual; Dominic was clearly at the end of his tether and frightened to acknowledge it. Jude was longing to cuddle him, cosset him, kiss it all better but he knew that in his current mood Dominic would never accept any such consolation. Instead Jude reverted to his original instruction. “Hands on your head,” he repeated quietly.

“No,” came the strangled refusal of a young man who felt driven to resistance whilst ruthlessly suppressing his desire for Jude to master him.

“On your knees,” Jude ordered. This had become a test of wills and Jude had no compunction about raising the stakes until Dominic folded. “Kneel down,” he repeated whilst exerting gentle pressure on Dominic’s shoulders. It was the power of Jude’s physical presence so close to Dominic’s back, rather than any force applied to his body which had him sinking to his knees without further struggle, indeed without further thought. Jude stepped back and waited until Dominic had settled on his knees about a foot from the wall and facing the corner. Then he issued his final instruction which gave the clearest possible signal that he was not planning to give Dominic an inch of leeway. “Hands on your head,” he insisted. This time Dominic complied immediately and without saying another word.

Jude was well aware of the discomfort of kneeling with hands clasped on the head. He felt sorry for Dominic who was ending a dreadful day in such an embarrassing and awkward posture but he knew that having to accept the physical reality of his partner’s authority would calm and ground the distraught young man.  Jude went and sat quietly on the sofa. He made no pretence of reading; he was too tense for such distraction. He just watched Dominic and tried to gauge his state of mind by the set of his shoulders and the angle of his head.

It was some time before the strain of keeping his hands on his head began to take its toll on Dominic. Jude watched him shift his knees apart to try and relieve the pain in his back and then clasp his fingers more tightly together to counteract the pull of gravity on his arms. Jude said nothing, aware that Dominic’s focus on his bodily discomfort had shifted his attention from whatever obsessive thoughts had been causing him such distress. Eventually it was Dominic who broke the silence.

“Jude,” he enquired tentatively.

“Yes,” replied Jude in an even tone.

“May I stand up? My back’s killing me.”

“Of course you may. And you can put your hands by your sides whenever you need a break from having them on your head.” Jude wondered how Dominic would cope with being given some control over his own restriction but went with a gut feeling that it would be beneficial to give him a few choices.

Dominic reached out to the wall for support and got stiffly to his feet. He stretched his arms above his head until his shoulders cracked and then let them fall to his sides where he flexed his fingers. As soon as the ache diminished, however, he placed his hands behind his head and interlinked his fingers through his hair. Jude mused, not for the first time, how it was a case of all or nothing with Dominic. He was capable of giving way to fury when things didn’t go according to his own prearranged plan but once he’d calmed down he was so anxious to make amends that he would try to punish himself if Jude made no move to do it for him. He was clearly not going to take advantage of Jude’s leniency to make things easy on himself and Jude realised that he’d have to come down hard if he was to help Dominic feel better.

Jude left Dominic standing in the corner for another quarter of an hour just to reinforce the unspoken message about prompt and polite obedience. Dominic clearly found it a trial as he twice took advantage of the permission he’d been given to relax his arms. The second time he spent a bit longer with his hands at his sides giving Jude the opportunity to note how his shoulders dropped as he relaxed, his breathing slowed as his panic faded and how he was now standing, immobile but tranquil. Dominic might hate the sensory deprivation associated with a punishment which he regarded as demeaning but he’d also made the reluctant admission to Jude that corner time settled him when he was upset and it got him thinking straight when he’d worked himself into a state of agitation.

When Jude finally decided that the simple but effective sanction had worked its magic he summoned Dominic to join him on the sofa. “Do you want to tell me what that was all about?” he asked without rancour and was rewarded with the open expression of regret on Dominic’s face as he made willing eye contact.

“I don’t know what possessed me to be so rude,” he said in tones of self reproach. “I was so angry… but not with you. I’m really sorry.”

“Don’t worry. I knew you were furious with yourself for whatever mistake you think you’ve made. I’m just sorry you didn’t ask me for help.”

“I haven’t been holding out on you, really I haven’t. I’d just decided that I wanted to make a formal report to you in the office tomorrow and not bring a work problem home.”

“That’s a valid point,” agreed Jude thoughtfully. “I think I could have accepted that — respected your desire to deal with your boss rather than your partner — if you’d explained your point of view calmly and politely.” Dominic blushed and hung his head. “We both know that our relationship at work does make for some difficulties in our private lives,” Jude went on, “but if we are open and honest with each other those difficulties can usually be overcome.”

“But I didn’t want to unload this problem on you tonight. You’ll have enough trouble sorting it out with the Divisional Director in the morning,” bemoaned Dominic.

Jude was making every allowance for Dominic’s complicated moral standpoint but he would have no truck with this attempt at self justification. “So you decided to tear yourself apart with remorse and deny yourself the comfort of sharing your fears and worries with your lover,” he stated firmly. “You worked yourself up into such a state of self loathing that you were unable to control your temper and you finished up turning on me.”

Dominic, who hardly ever cried for a spanking and hated anyone to see so much as a tear on his cheek was overcome by Jude’s reproach, the truth of which pierced him to the heart. It was beyond his ability to put his response into words but Jude was left in no doubt about the depth of his remorse. Tears spilled unchecked down his cheeks and he drew a ragged breath which turned into a sob as he exhaled. He sank his head into his hands and gave himself over to the first bout of totally unrestrained tears he’d shed since childhood.

Jude sat very still and made no attempt to touch or comfort his partner. He didn’t want to do anything which might give Dominic the impression that he should try to master his emotions. Crying seemed like a very normal and justifiable reaction to the anxiety, stress and remorse which Dominic was experiencing and Jude felt that his partner would benefit from the cathartic effect of tears. It was as though the floodgate of Dominic’s repressed emotions had been allowed to burst and he sobbed out all his anger and grief.

The storm of tears was intense but short lived and, as Dominic struggled to catch his breath, Jude handed him a clean handkerchief to dry his eyes and blow his nose. When he finally looked up there was a touch of wry self-mockery in his contrite expression. “You haven’t even spanked me yet and I’m crying like a girl,” he said ruefully.

“There’s no need to be ashamed of crying, Dominic, and there’s no need to make snide remarks about girls who may be more adept than you at expressing their emotions.”

“I know; I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to say. I was just feeling embarrassed. You are going to spank me, though, aren’t you?”

“I think I need to take some action over your behaviour this evening, don’t you? But we can postpone your punishment if you don’t feel up to it right now.”

“Oh, no,” said Dominic hastily. “I really want to wipe the slate clean as soon as possible. I know I behaved badly from the moment I walked in the door tonight and I feel dreadful about how I’ve treated you. Please will you deal with it now.”

“Alright, but we’re going to take the time first to discuss went wrong this evening. Have you any thoughts on the matter?”

Dominic sighed. He’d rather hoped they could skip the discussion and jump straight to the punishment but he did understand why Jude was taking his time. “It’s all the usual stuff,” he announced with a sigh. “Sometimes I think I’ll never learn. I was so angry with myself by the time I got home I went berserk when I walked in the door. I’m just thankful you weren’t around to hear the screaming and shouting, to say nothing of me flinging my stuff around. I was obsessing about everything that went wrong in Manchester and I was so upset by the time you got home that I wasn’t capable of thinking straight. I tried to pretend there was nothing the matter at first and when you challenged my behaviour I… I…” Dominic had managed to reach this point in his recital with calm objectivity but it was proving more difficult to accuse himself of verbally abusing his partner. He swallowed and glanced uncomfortably at Jude who, for once, chose not to help him out. “I shouted and swore at you and… and… I refused to do as I was told,” he added in a rush.

“I think that just about covers it if we focus on your actions. What do you think I’m most disappointed about though?”

Dominic took a moment to think about that question and then the answer seemed so obvious he couldn’t understand why he hadn’t included it in his initial statement. “That I shut you out,” he answered quietly. “I didn’t tell you how I was feeling and I didn’t let you help me. I’m so sorry.”

Jude didn’t see any need to labour the point. Dominic was calm and resolute about facing punishment for faults which he now fully recognised so Jude just said, “Get up and stand against the wall over there, in the middle not the corner, and put your hands on your head.” If Dominic was baffled by the instruction he showed no sign of hesitation. He stepped quickly into position close to the wall, clasped his hands on his head and didn’t move when he heard Jude get up and leave the room.

Jude returned a couple of minutes later carrying the cane which he’d decided to use for Dominic’s punishment. He wanted to deal with Dominic swiftly, without appearing to minimise the seriousness of his misconduct. He reckoned that by doing something unexpected Dominic would feel well chastised without him having to employ much force in administering the punishment. He didn’t say a word to Dominic about his intentions though; he didn’t need to. Gentle taps on his backside alerted Dominic immediately to the fact that Jude was lining up the cane. He hastily shifted his feet further apart to take a firmer stance, wishing that he had something to hold on to, and braced himself for the first stroke.

The tapping ceased and there was an agonising wait before Dominic heard the familiar swish and crack as the cane connected with the very centre of his clothed backside. He felt relieved that he was able to hold his position, conscious that his trousers, shirt and underpants had absorbed the worst of the sting. He relaxed slightly, expecting a pause between strokes but Jude gave him no respite. The second stroke was delivered almost immediately, this time an inch or two above the first, and Dominic grunted, more in surprise than in pain. He clenched his buttocks and held his breath predicting correctly that Jude was going to be caning fast. The third stroke caught him just across the crease at the top of his thighs and this time he took an involuntary step forward and his clasped hands flew apart. He recovered his stance at once, resolutely replaced his hands on his head and stood waiting for the next stroke.

Jude decided he could afford to raise the stakes in order to bring the punishment to a rapid conclusion. “Drop your pants,” he instructed. Dominic lowered his hands to unfasten his trousers which fell in a loose heap of woollen fabric around his ankles and, without waiting for further orders, he pulled his underpants down to his thighs. Jude ran his hand over Dominic’s trembling buttocks, noting the three evenly spaced lines which showed up pink against the white flesh. Then he tucked up Dominic’s shirt and stepped back to finish the job.

If anything, the second set of three strokes was delivered more quickly than the first and with a precision which accurately aligned them on top of the existing stripes. It needed little more than a flick of the wrist to deliver a real sting to bare flesh already sensitised by the first round with the cane. This time the pink marks were overlaid with the distinctive tram lines imparted by the length of rattan and, when Jude put the implement down, raised wheals were already beginning to develop across Dominic’s buttocks.

“All finished; all done,” said Jude. “You can pull up your trousers and come and lie down on the sofa.” Dominic took his hands off his head and rubbed his bottom. “All forgiven, all forgotten,” Jude added, knowing how important it was for Dominic to hear the words of absolution.

“All forgotten?” Dominic enquired, turning away from the wall to look at his partner with surprising good humour, given the fact that his trousers were still bunched round his ankles. “Does that include the damage to the wall?”

“What do you mean?” asked Jude, momentarily thrown by Dominic’s question.

“Well, you’ve just caned me. Does that mean I’m let off having to repair the wall?”

“No, it does not, you cheeky young devil. That penalty stands. You weren’t caned for damaging the wall and you damn well know it.”

Not noticeably subdued, Dominic chanced his arm yet again. Turning back to the wall and putting his hands on his head he said, “Come on. I’ll take another couple of strokes if you’ll let me pay someone to fix that wall.”

Jude walked over to Dominic, reflecting that he must have judged the punishment just right. Dominic couldn’t be in too much pain if he was willing to submit to further strokes, yet the caning seemed to have restored his customary good humour and enabled him to let go of his earlier anger and distress. Standing behind Dominic, Jude dealt one sharp slap to his bare bottom and then pulled him into his arms, smothering his astounded gasp with a kiss. “I’m the one who decides on the penalties around here and there’s no way you’re getting out of doing that repair yourself.” Seeing disappointment cloud Dominic’s eyes he enquired more gently, “What’s the matter, love? What’s the problem with fixing the wall?”

“I’m worried I’ll make a mess of it,” Dominic admitted honestly. “Or even if I do a reasonable job it still won’t be good enough to satisfy me and it’ll be a reproach every time I walk in the house.”

“Then this is going to be a good learning experience in coping with your perfectionism. We all have to learn to be satisfied with our work being good enough rather than perfect. No one is going to be inspecting this repair with a magnifying glass.”

“I’d still rather you caned me.”

“I understand that but I’m not going to do it. And it’s not like you to try taking the easy way out, either. You’re usually ready to be harder on yourself than I would ever be. If you don’t like the idea of having to do the repair yourself then it must be the most fitting and effective punishment, mustn’t it?”

“Yes, sir,” conceded Dominic, naively wondering how Jude could possibly know that his instincts, when he’d done something wrong, were always to seek out the toughest penalty.

“Now, come on, pull up your pants and come and lie down on the sofa with me.”

Lying on his side, with Jude holding him and spooned up behind him, Dominic relaxed and focused on the sting in his backside which was rapidly diminishing to manageable warmth. It struck him for the first time that Jude really had let him off lightly. Suddenly, apropos of nothing, he said, “It was the stonework, you know, and all that damned Victorian Gothic decoration.”

Jude was immediately on the alert, realising that Dominic was telling him something important. “Did it cause a problem in the Manchester office?” he asked, immediately identifying the likely problem and sparing Dominic the distress of having to spell it out.

“I should have known,” said Dominic with resignation. “I should have realised.” The tide of his fury and self reproach had washed over him leaving only a dull sense of regret and failure.

“What should you have known?” enquired Jude gently.

“That the wireless network wouldn’t work properly in a stone building with such thick walls and high turrets.”

“So you’re having to cable all the offices?”

“It’s not as straightforward as that. The damn place is a listed building and I’ve had to get the planning office involved. We’re not allowed to run cabling along walls and down corridors. It will all have to be hidden under floor. It’s a specialist job which will add substantially to the cost of the whole project.”

“So you’re going to have to go and see that boss of yours who’s such a bastard and ask for more money.” Jude felt the slight quiver of amusement which passed through Dominic’s body.

“He’s not such a bastard really,” Dominic objected. “It’s just that this isn’t the first time I’ve made a major cock up with the estimates for a regional project and he’ll have to account for this mistake to the Divisional Director.”

“I wouldn’t worry about your boss, if I were you. I reckon he’s more than capable of looking after himself. It sounds like you made an honest mistake and one which you couldn’t have been expected to foresee. I think he’ll go easy on you.”

“I’m not bothered about being in trouble. I’m just so upset at making a stupid mistake.”

“I can understand that. If you’ll allow me to give you a bit more advice, I’d like to suggest that you turn to your partner for consolation. I think he may be able to make you feel better.” This time Dominic’s laugh was wholehearted and he turned on the narrow confines of the sofa to lie face down on Jude’s chest and take comfort in his own personal place of safety.

In the office the next morning Dominic’s first task was to book an appointment to see his boss. The earliest slot Mr Merrow’s secretary could offer was midday and that suited Dominic fine. He laboured all morning on new specifications and costings for the IT provision in Manchester and, by the time he presented himself outside Jude’s office, he had a completely revised plan ready to present.

When he sat down on the opposite side of the desk from Jude, only a slight blush revealed the extent of his agitation. He kept his recital absolutely professional, apologising just once for his oversight, and explaining clearly the reasons why the new computer network in Manchester was failing to operate as expected. Jude listened with growing admiration for Dominic’s ability to state the facts so objectively, knowing how distraught his partner had been in private over his own perceived failings. When Dominic moved on to describe what was required to remedy the defects and opened the file he was clutching in order to remove a fully costed plan, Jude was so impressed that he interrupted Dominic’s presentation.

“Are you telling me, Mr McAvinchey, that you’ve already worked out a solution to this problem?”

“I’m afraid it’s going to be a very costly solution, sir, and one we haven’t budgeted for.” In his anxiety not to conceal the bad news Dominic had entirely missed Jude’s smile and tone of voice which should have told him that his boss was very pleasantly surprised by what he was hearing.

“Presumably the cost would have been much the same if you had appreciated the problem with the building right from the outset,” Jude pointed out.

Dominic gave that observation some critical thought and then replied with devastating honesty. “It’s true we would have had to pay for the cabling as well as the additional costs associated with listed building consent but I wouldn’t have spent as much on the wireless network.”

“Is that expenditure an absolute loss to the company?”

“Well… no… I suppose I can utilise some of the new hardware here in London. We do need to do some upgrading and parts of our network are running rather slowly.”

“So the issue here is the need to increase the budget at short notice but in the long term your inadvertent oversight isn’t going to cost the company any more than it would have had to spend anyway.”

“I suppose not,” conceded Dominic, glancing up from his paperwork to see Jude smiling at him. It was a private moment between the two of them which existed in isolation from their interaction there in the office. This time Dominic didn’t miss the unspoken message and he returned a wry grin which signalled his appreciation of Jude’s ability to iron out difficulties which he had thought insuperable the day before.

The moment passed and Jude got back to business. “I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have such detailed and accurate costings to present to the Divisional Director,” he said as he stood up. “I’ll go and see him now to ask for budget approval so you can get the project back on track.”

“You’ll have to tell him about my mistake, won’t you?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be able to smooth that over. There shouldn’t be a problem.”

“No, you don’t understand. I’d rather you didn’t have to defend me again. I’d like to explain to the Director myself.”

“There’s no need for that. As your line manager it’s my responsibility to sort this out.”

“You’ve had to cover for me with the Divisional Director before. I’m only just beginning to realise how difficult that must have been over that other business… you know, when I got someone to sit the online exam for me. Let me take responsibility this time. Please, Mr Merrow… please, Jude… I want to.”

Jude looked into Dominic’s eyes and read in them determination as well as pleading. This was no longer the clueless young man he’d been so happy to defend and protect. Dominic was learning to take responsibility for himself and his actions, and Jude felt a stab of sadness at his growing independence. But, reminding himself how much emphasis he’d placed on honesty and how he’d tried to teach Dominic to manage life’s setbacks he gave way with good grace. “If you want to present your report on the Manchester project, along with the revised costings and specifications, of course you may do so.”

“You’ll come with me, though, won’t you?” Dominic asked anxiously, remembering the last time he’d faced the Divisional Director at a disciplinary hearing. There were limits to his courage and desire for independence.

“Of course I’ll come with you but you can do all the talking if that’s what you want. There’s no need to worry about facing the Director,” he added, correctly divining the cause of Dominic’s anxiety. “He holds you in high regard.”

“What?” queried Dominic in genuine amazement. “Even after he gave me a verbal warning for dishonesty?”

“You’ve more than lived down that error of judgement and you’ve proved your value to the company ten times over since then. I don’t think there’s another employee at Semdar who could have done the work you’ve got through this morning. You’re a huge asset to the company and the Director knows it. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Jude watched the tension drain out of Dominic as he absorbed those words of approbation and reassurance. He realised that Dominic still depended on him to banish the terrors which sometimes beset him and he felt very proud of Dominic’s courage in facing up to his difficulties. The young man had made huge strides in his dealings with others, learning to understand their feelings and emotions, as well as endeavouring to be more open and honest about the issues which worried him. It gave Jude immense satisfaction to know that the love and support he’d lavished on his partner, as well as the structure and discipline which he’d also provided, had been instrumental in making Dominic more confident, self reliant and at ease with himself and the world.

As Dominic turned to leave the office Jude was suddenly tempted to disregard his customary adherence to office protocol. He reached for his partner and pulled Dominic into his arms. “I’m so proud of you,” he said, “and I love you so much. I can’t imagine life without you.”

“I love you, too,” whispered Dominic, stepping as closely as possible into Jude’s embrace. “When I see you in the office I can hardly believe that this fabulous man is all mine and then I get you home and…”

“That’s enough,” Jude interjected, reluctantly letting Dominic go. “We’d better go and see the Divisional Director now before we do something which could really get us into trouble!”