Thursday, February 11, 2010


Title: Anastasia
Author: Ranger

"Nick you need to get a move on, it's twenty past seven."
Damien's voice reached me over the crash of the shower.  I wrenched soap out of my hair, grabbed a towel and fled. He of course, Mr Perfection on a stick, was dressed, the bed was made, he was shaved and he had brought his last mug of coffee upstairs with him to drink in serenity while he selected the correct tie to go with his suit. I hadn't yet made it downstairs for breakfast. I sorted through the wardrobe, trying to find something wearable with my free hand trying to put on my watch.
"Why didn't you TELL me?"
"I've been telling you for the past half hour. I don't know what you do with your mornings!"
Yes well we can't all be as naturally faultless as the wonderful Mr Damien Mitchell, can we?
I gritted my teeth, dropped my watch and stifled the urge to swear. Damien picked it up, reached past me and pulled a shirt out, handing it to me.
"Calm down and get dressed. And eat something."
"I haven't got time."
"Make time." Damien said heartlessly. "It's a long day."
I was still dressing as I made it to the kitchen, rammed the nearest piece of bread into the toaster and switched the kettle on. The milk slipped straight through my fingers and the bottle shattered on the floor.
"What was that?" Damien demanded from upstairs.
"Breakfast!" I shouted back, hunting for a tea towel. There was only one in the drawer. I dropped it over the top of the broken glass and moved it with my foot, soaking up the spilt milk while I hooked burning toast out of the toaster. Butter and marmalade were buried- of course- at the very back of the fridge. Damien's voice came from the hall, much clearer this time,
"Nicholas, it's seven thirty!"
Thankyou the speaking clock. I grabbed the tea towel up off the floor, collecting the broken glass with it, looked for somewhere to shove it out of sight and hastily pushed the whole thing into the washing machine and slammed the door on it. I'd sort that out later when I had time. Damien paused in the doorway, glowered at me with open disapproval and hooked a plate out of the cupboard.
"We have china in this house. We have cutlery. Do you think you could eat in something like a civilised manner?"
"I'm not eating," I said brightly, "This is surplus, I was going to put it out for the birds- are you going?"
"Mmn. Are you?" Damien waited, still frowning. I discreetly slipped the toast into my pocket and headed for the door.
"On my way."
As soon as I found my car keys.
"What about the washing up Nicholas?" Damien demanded behind me.
"I'll do it tonight- as soon as I get home, I promise."
"This kitchen looks like a nuclear accident!"
He couldn't half exaggerate.
 Damien waited by the open door, visibly losing patience by the second as I discreetly ransacked the bookcase. They were usually on the shelf somewhere here.
"It's seven forty five, Nick, you should have left fifteen minutes ago."
"I just need my keys-"
"They're on the bathroom windowsill where you abandoned them last night." Damien said acidly. "If you actually put things away and planned for the morning-"
That was NOT helpful. I ran upstairs, grabbed the keys and my jacket and headed out of the door in front of him.
"It's okay. I'm ready, it's fine, I'm not late, I'll see you later."
He was still frowning when I kissed him and unlocked my car. I waited until I was round the corner before I took the toast out of my pocket and started on breakfast. 
Okay, he was right.
I'd been getting later and later recently. I rarely made it into work before eight thirty at the moment and it wasn't in time to get the bits and pieces done I needed to before the day began in earnest. Why, I didn't know. I got up before him. I had more time than he did. However the only thing I reliably got done was the asthma medication. Ha. Essentially because Damien murdered me if I didn't.
"I hit the rush hour traffic again this morning." I admitted somewhere during the nine o clock news. Damien moved over to make room for me on the sofa and I curled up against him, lounging without regard for the minister holding forth on current affairs on screen.
"I'm not surprised. You've been getting later and later every day this week."
"I can't make myself get going. I barely got the mail open before we started getting phone calls this morning. I hate not having time to get organised before work."
Silence. I glanced up at his jawline above me.
"Maybe I need to get up earlier."
"You are not getting up any earlier than six. If you got yourself organised, you wouldn't need an hour and a half to get out of the house." Damien said pointedly.
I didn't answer. Damien twisted to look down to me.
"If you want me to get involved I will. But if I do, we're not mucking about."
"You were shouting at me all morning this morning and it didn't help much."
Damien didn't rise to the exaggeration, just quirked his eyebrows at me. "If we take a group decision that you're getting yourself out of this house ready to work at seven thirty am, I'll do more than shout my boy."
He meant that. I knew it. He'd taken my time keeping skills in hand before now. When we met, it was about the one thing about me that had really driven him mad.
I gave it some serious thought, then gave him the most winning smile I could come up with.
"Want another coffee?"
He grinned, but let me escape to the kitchen. 
Seven twenty five. I had at least three more minutes before I needed to worry. The bed was made, I glanced once more at the alarm clock and buried myself back in my book. Damien's exasperated sigh made me close it hurriedly.
"I'm about to go-"
"You are NOT." My friend and lover dropped his immaculate jacket over the dressing table and swooped on me like a bird of prey, pulling me up off the bed. "Have you ever considered putting anything on a hangar?" Damien dropped an assembled pile of clothing on the bed and added a heap of books on top.
"I don't think I'd have much luck putting a Jane Austen on a hangar." I said flippantly and promptly regretted it as he glared at me.
"It's okay, I'll tidy up tonight-"
"You will NOT, Nicholas. You'll sort this mess out NOW because I refuse to live with it. Do you know what this is over here? It's a wardrobe. It's designed to contain clothes so neither of us have to break an ankle falling over them and so we can find the tops of doors and the backs of chairs occasionally. I'd swear to it putting things away goes against some religious principle of yours."
I kept quiet. He goes through these tidying up fits. He can tolerate clutter Monday to Friday on most days, but on Saturday morning without fail the fervour hits him and he sweeps through the house like a hurricane, dragging me after him. This was a Wednesday and no doubt he was feeling the mid week pinch. I grabbed a few things to shove out of his sight. "You're going to make me LATE-"
"Then you need to make time in your morning to tidy up after yourself, because you're not walking away from this kind of clutter. What's this?" he added with unnecessary drama, sorting his way across the dressing table like a fox after a rabbit. "Do we really NEED an empty razor packet up here? And what's this? A penicillin experiment?"
"I was getting around to it." I said patiently. Damien snorted.
"A month next Tuesday. How do you ever find anything?"
"I know where it all is."
"I bet if you kept this room straight it wouldn't take you half as long to get ready in the mornings."
I scowled at the stack of articles accumulating on the bed, all accusingly piled up as mine.
"If you weren't so fussy-" I said as an opening move in self defence. Damien cut me off that bridge before I had a foot on it.
"That is NOT the issue."
"- the gremlins WON'T get you if the hoovering gets done at six pm instead of seven am. It's not as if we're even HERE during the day to see it!"
Damien added two pairs of jeans and a file to the growing heap on the bed. "Nicky. Apart from the fact I refuse to live in a house full of chaos, I happen to live with a severe asthmatic. Who doesn't handle dust very well. Which is why it's important the carpets and surfaces are kept as dust free as we can manage. Which means we DON'T clutter them up."
YES Damien.
He was looking at me. He wasn't going to give up and it was now seven twenty five. I gave up and started straightening out the pile of junk, hoping he'd give up and leave for work. He hooked an arm around my waist as he passed.
"You've got ten minutes. And we'll talk about this tonight."
Arg. The man is so neurotic it's amazing he doesn't hold reveille in the kitchen every morning.
I glared at the heap of clothes and books, and gradually began to pick up items and return them to their places. Ten minutes wasn't enough time to touch it. Damien's shout from downstairs roused me out of reading the third book I'd picked up and made me survey the mountain of junk with growing despair. Tidiness was just not one of my talents. It was something he was going to have to learn to live with. Accept. I was only human, I had my faults, he would have to take me as I was-
The sound of Damien coming upstairs galvanised me into action. I grabbed the entire pile, hooked my half of the wardrobe open and buried the entire pile at the back behind a row of jackets he never wore and coats I wouldn't need until winter. The doors were shut just in time.
"That's it, I'm done." I said brightly. Damien tossed me my jacket and pushed me ahead of him towards the stairs.
"Wonderful. And now you're only twenty minutes late. And so am I."
"It's not a problem," I argued, watching him lock the front door behind us, "Not today, I've got a late meeting tonight so I'll make up the time then-"
"I'm NOT debating this with you now." Damien lifted my chin and gave me one of his fast and thorough kisses, guaranteed to last at least four hours. "We'll talk tonight."
I muttered and headed for my car. His voice floated after me, serenely cheerful.
"Anyway. I'm dying to know why we're spin drying broken crockery these days."
Arg. I collapsed into the driver's seat and watched him pull away, sticking my tongue out at him as he passed. His laugh and blown kiss did nothing to improve my temper. 
The traffic of course was hell. It was nearly quarter to nine when I reached the office and Beth came across to my desk before I had my coat off, pushing the door to behind her. Her smile was kind but apologetic.
"Nick, you are paid for an eight thirty start and this IS the seventh or eighth time in the last few weeks you've come in late."
"I know." I hung my coat up and tried to look together. "I'm sorry, I'll try not to let it happen again."
"I don't want to do the ton of bricks act." She gave me a look of sympathy that made me feel still more guilty. "Is there anything wrong? Anything I can help with?"
I made myself answer truthfully, flushing until I could feel my face burn.
"No, I just can't get organised at the moment."
"Maybe you need to set the alarm clock a little earlier?" she suggested gently.
No, that wasn't the answer. I just needed to tell my domineering, infuriatingly organised boyfriend. From Beth's smile, she had no idea of what she was getting me into. 
From Damien's hug, he was aware today hadn't been one of the better ones. He'd got home before me for once, the kitchen was sparkling and the teacloth with broken glass was laid out on the draining board.
"I thought I'd better check with you as you obviously had plans for it." Damien said as he let me go. I swiped him. He intervened before I picked it up.
"DON'T cut yourself. You know, your thought processes baffle me."
"Go away." I said, hooking my fingers in his belt to prevent him going anywhere. Damien grinned.
"So how late were you to work?"
"I need to talk to you." I admitted. Damien turned me around and laced his fingers in the small of my back, hazel eyes inquiring. And reassuringly cheerful. I took a deep breath and fiddled with the ends of his tie.
"I got an earful from Beth. Well she was very nice about it, but she wasn't happy. It was quarter to nine."
"Ah." Damien said mildly.
"I really don't mean to be that late." I pleaded. "Time just slips away, I think I've got plenty of it-"
"And you just mess about." Damien finished for me. "Don't look so worried, it's not a hanging offence."
I looked at him. He shrugged.
"I've told you before. If you can't manage your time, I'll manage it for you."
"Just remember I asked you to get involved in this." I warned. Damien grinned.
"You did."
"So you can't go ballistic at me when things go wrong and I can't help it."
His eyes laughed at me. "I think that's debatable."
"It's perfectly logical!"
"Totally. You don't want to be late. You want me to stop you being late. But you don't actually want to be spanked. Darling, that is the whole reason it works. And I can't see there's going to be one morning you won't have a marvellous excuse for being late on."
"I am the prince of darkness and my promises mean nothing." Damien snatched another quick kiss. "If you are still in this house at seven thirty, I am going to make you another five minutes later my boy and you are going to be driving to work on a hot backside. I give it until about Friday and this will be sorted." 
Few men would put up with him.
He refused to let me out of his sight from twenty past six onwards. I was hassled into the shower AND hassled out again, found myself dressed in the clothes he'd made me lay out the night before and was dragged down to breakfast. Which staggered me. It was the first time I'd sat down to eat breakfast in months on a weekday. I could see I was going to be exhausted by Friday, but it was going to work. I was going to be out of the house with time to spare and all his threats were going to be redundant.
This was easy. It was six fifty nine. I had ages yet. I could hear Damien singing in the shower upstairs and the morning news beginning on the radio in the kitchen. Feeling sorted and peacefully mature I jammed the lid on the dustbin and started back towards the kitchen. Ten minutes to straighten it out. Ten minutes to hoover. Another five to say goodbye to Damien and I was out of the door dead on time.
Two round, orange eyes looked at me mournfully from behind the dustbin. I slowly crouched down on the paving stones. Someone very small and very doubtful thought briefly about running, then apparently decided it was too hard to move. I held out a hand, very slowly and made coaxing noises. It watched my hand warily for a minute. Then baby instinct kicked in and with a sudden and unco ordinated gambol of enthusiasm, a very small kitten chirruped and snowballed the few feet to me. It was wet and very cold and rubbed against my hand so hard it nearly fell over. I petted her for a few minutes, then gently picked her up. She flopped in my hands, purring, her baby feet batting in mid air as I cuddled her up. She was almost too small to be alone, and she had clearly been out for some time. I stroked her and moved down towards the garden gate. The side of our garden runs along a public path lined with hedges. Outside on the other side of our fence, I found what I was looking for. A cardboard box lay on it's side, damp and soggy under the bushes. What I saw inside made my eyes sting and I pulled the kitten still closer. Well now I knew she wasn't lost. Whoever had dumped her had seriously not wanted her back.
She was snuggling happily under my chin and chewing on my hair. I took her into the kitchen and shut the door. I couldn't give her milk, not at her age, but then there wasn't much else I had to give her. In the end I mixed milk with water and put it into a saucer on the worktop. She drank with such enthusiasm she was clearly starving. I opened a can of tuna and gave her some of the fish, watching her bolt it with growing anxiety. This young lady needed to see a vet.
The shower switched off upstairs, reminding me of another relevant fact.
I needed to put the kitten WELL away from Damien.
He wasn't anti pet. His family had huge numbers of large and over excited dogs, but he had always consistently said no whenever I broached the subject. The thing to do now was to hide this baby until tonight- I got home an hour earlier than Damien. I could take her to the vet, get some food, make a bed up for her in the shed and worry about breaking this to Damien later. When the situation looked a little better. If he found her now, he would insist she went straight to the nearest cat shelter.
"Nicky!" Damien called from the bedroom. I carried the kitten with me into the hall and fumbled for a cardboard box in the cupboard under the stairs. There was nothing big enough.
"I'm washing up!"
"We DID the washing up twenty minutes ago."
"I'm doing more washing up."
"What ever turns you on. I don't suppose you can wash some towels too while you're in the mood?"
"No problem."
The radio switched on upstairs. I took the kitten back to the kitchen and put her down on the counter while I stuffed towels from the laundry basket into the washing machine and slammed it on full. Maybe I'd have more luck in the shed. Maybe she could stay in the shed for a day or two. I scooped up the cat and took her with me outside. The shed- once I'd climbed over the lawnmower and garden tools, had a nice sized space on the floor and it was warm. An ancient chest of drawers was stuck in the corner, waiting while we thought of something to do with it. Most likely take it to the municipal tip, but the opened drawer would be about the right size for a kitten bed. I put the kitten down in it and watched her start to explore. All she'd need was some blankets and towels and she'd get through the day. Careful to barricade her into the corner away from the lawnmower, I shut the door on her and went back to the house.
"Hoovering." Damien greeted me on the landing, knotting his tie. I passed him and turned, walking backwards to look convincingly together about hoovering.
"Yes. In one minute."
"What are you doing?"
"Looking for my watch." I explained and dived into the spare room. Damien followed me, frowning.
"And you think it might be in the airing cupboard?"
"No, clean towels are in the airing cupboard. You just told me we needed clean towels."
"We need to wash them-" Damien got out of my way. "Nick, those are ancient, they need binning!"
"There's some use left in them." I said, heading for the bathroom. Damien grabbed me and them.
"For cleaning cars, maybe. Use some decent ones. And calm down, you've got a good fifteen minutes yet."
I found another armful and made it into the bathroom, shutting the door long enough to listen to him go back into our room. I folded two towels under my jacket and shot downstairs and back out to the shed.
There was no kitten in sight.
Heart in my throat, I searched the shed. The door had been firmly shut, the windows were closed, there were no gaps or holes she could have got out through. She had to be in here somewhere. Eventually, by pulling the drawers as far out as I could, I caught sight of two upright ears and wide eyes. Somehow she'd got down the back of the open drawer. Which of course were on runners so they wouldn't actually come out… swearing quietly, I checked the runners. They were irritatingly sound, I was going to need a screwdriver to get them loose and let her out.
I made a bed up in the drawer with the towels, shut the door behind me and wondered where on earth to look for a screwdriver. A search of the cutlery drawer didn't help.
"WHAT are you looking for now?" Damien demanded behind me in a tone that suggested he was in the early stages of losing patience. I shut the drawer and tried to look innocent.
"Then try hoovering." Damien wrapped the flex around the iron and put it on the hob to cool down. What on earth he was ironing at this time in the morning defeated me.
"Where do we keep screwdrivers?"
"Where we always keep screwdrivers. In the toolbox under the stairs. What do you want a screwdriver for?"
"Got to change a lightbulb."
"NOT with a screwdriver you're not." Damien blocked my way out of the kitchen. "What are you doing?"
"Plug. I meant plug."
"Calm DOWN." Damien ran both hands over my shoulders and swatted me gently. "Forget the plug, get the hoovering done and we'll go."
I glanced at my watch as I ran upstairs. Eight minutes. The hoover was laid out on the landing. Damien, trying to give me a head start. I whizzed it around, making more noise with it than doing anything else. It was still running when I nipped downstairs, under the stairs and pocketed a screwdriver. Damien was loading files into the car, the front door stood open. I grabbed a jacket and got out of the backdoor and into the shed.
I wasn't strong enough to loosen the wretched screws on the drawers. The kitten watched me from behind the drawer, eyes saucershaped as I swore. I heard the front door slam in the distance, indicating Damien back in the house and looking for me. Hassled, my hand slipped and the screwdriver sank into my palm. I swore rather louder and sucked the well of  blood, pulling faces at the taste. I couldn't leave the kitten stuck all day. If I couldn't shift the screws- maybe I needed to leave the house with Damien, drive around the block and come back when I didn't have a time conscious lover bouncing up and down in the hallway, waiting for me. Still swearing, I went back to the house.
"Two minutes." Damien announced from the lounge. "And counting. If you are still in this house at seven thirty-" He broke off in mid threat as I shot past him, sucking my hand. "NOW what have you done?"
"Cut myself. Putting the rubbish out? Its collection day?"
"Cut yourself on what?" Damien, never one to easily accept ideas, ran up the stairs after me, caught up with me in the bathroom and pulled my hand away from my mouth. "What did that for Pete's sake?"
"I don't know, it wasn't that sharp." I winced as he pulled the first aid box down from the bathroom cabinet and took out the dettol. "It's CLEAN, put that stuff away!"
"You cut it on rubbish for goodness sakes, how can it possibly be clean!" Damien soaked cotton wool and gripped my wrist before I could pull away. "Don't be such a wimp, it isn't going to hurt."
"Liar!" I clenched my fingers and worked on getting my wrist away from him. Damien sighed and waited.
"Nicky I've got to clean it, its going to take two seconds-"
"Let me do it?" I pleaded. Damien looked at me.
"We've tried that before, remember? Doesn't work very well. Come on baby, two seconds."
Or explain to him how I knew it was clean? I unwillingly opened my fingers, and nearly went through the roof as he wiped the cut out with the disinfectant. Damien hung onto my wrist, folded a pad over the cut and bandaged it to my hand.
"There. Finished. And if you ever go outside and leave the hoover running again, I'll brain you."
"I just remembered it was collection day and I didn’t want to miss it-"
"You've still got downstairs to do." Damien reminded me. I glared at him, following him downstairs.
"It can wait until tonight-"
"NOW." Damien said relentlessly. "I do all the lethal jobs, remember? Drills, irons and mowers are my problem, hoovers are yours."
I glanced at my watch. It was seven thirty one.
Damien stood over me while I hoovered the lounge, not letting me skimp on a single corner. It was seven forty by the time he was satisfied and let me turn it off.
"Thankyou. Now put it away and we might make it out of here before eight o clock."
I stuffed it into the downstairs cupboard, out of sight and faced him, brushing my hands off, thinking about the kitten, still stuck.
"There's another rubbish bag to go out-"
Damien's sigh was of increasing exasperation. "Go on. MOVE!"
I fled. Grabbing a bowl of water on my way out. The kitten was sitting in the towel nest in the drawer, serenely washing herself. Apparently her talents included squeezing through three millimeter gaps between drawers, but only when she felt like it. I wasted another five seconds telling her what I thought of her before I put the water down, shut the door securely and headed back to the house, stuffing the rubbish out on the way. Damien was doing everything but pace in the livingroom, coated, briefcased, glaring at his watch like the white rabbit.
"Coat? Keys?"
Panic hit me. Damien pulled my set out of his pocket and held them out to me. I grabbed my coat off the hook.
"I'm ready."
"Halleluia." Damien gave another glance to his watch. "And I make that only…. Fourteen minutes late."
"Damien-" I began firmly and decisively. His hand closed over my uninjured one and steered me to the sofa.
"But I CUT myself!" I wailed at him.
"And I told you if you were late, I'd make you five minutes later. Come on, you've already strung this out as far as you possibly can."
I glowered at him. He sat down on the sofa and waited. Arg. He wouldn't hesitate to make us REALLY late if I pushed him, I knew. Resisting the urge to carry on swearing- which wouldn't have helped- I unbuttoned my trousers and without any enthusiasm lay over his lap. He didn't muck around; he never does. My shorts rapidly followed my cords and his palm cracked down in a torrent of sharp and very effective smacks that brought tears to my eyes in seconds. Calm as he was, he meant this, and by the end of five minutes I was really, seriously convinced he meant it. And I was equally convinced that fourteen minutes was far too late. Damien pulled me to my feet and helped me dress before he gave me a rough, very strong hug.
"Wash your face."
I clung to him, gulping. He held me for a minute, then his arms tightened and he let me go. "Come on, get a move on."
"I CAN'T go anywhere like this!" I said indignantly, rubbing at my eyes. He pushed me gently towards the kitchen.
"You're going to have to. Or get the hang of getting yourself out of the house on time."
He ran a dishtowel under the tap and handed it to me, watched me scrub at my face, then steered me outside and locked the door behind us.
"I'll see you later. Have a good day. I love you."
I accepted his kiss goodbye and got into my car with more than a slight wince as I sat down. Hot was not the word for it. However I had other things on my mind. Like how to get home at lunchtime to feed the kitten. 
Thank God it was a quiet day. I had a few errands to run in the afternoon, paint to pick up, things to order. There was plenty of time to collect the kitten on the way. She clambered out of her drawer at the sight of me and bundled across the floor, shouting welcome in no uncertain terms. This lady was not short on personality. She spent the car journey in a cardboard box, struggling to get over the rim, undeterred by falling over every time the car braked. The vet found little wrong with her and did nothing more than suggest how to feed her. She then came to the office with me for the afternoon, charmed Beth and Colin into wide eyed devotion and chased biros in and out of the desks. Looking at her, I could almost believe Damien would just lay eyes on her and fall in love. I found myself watching her poke her current biro under the gas fire, while I mentally rehearsed the conversation. Damien, watching me lift a carboard boxed kitten out of the car, listening with sympathy to my story of a kitten abandoned on the office doorstep… then doing his numerous, sensible, Damien things, like ringing cat shelters, reporting her missing and delivering her to the nearest vets. I could almost hear the speech he would make to me while he did it. No, now was not the time to tell him. The right moment would present itself. Eventually. 
Damien- drat him- for some reason best known to himself, had come home early. I bundled the kitten under my coat and nipped around the side of the house to the shed. The shed door was open wide and Damien waved from the far end of the lawn where he was mowing. The kitten sank her claws into my stomach as I clutched her and waved back. NORMAL men mowed on weekends. Or on hot days. What on earth had possessed him to start this afternoon? I dodged into the house, wondering what on earth to do with madam while he finished. In the end I locked myself in the bathroom, ran a bath and watched the kitten make her way slowly and unsteadily around the edge of the tub.
"Are you still talking to me?" Damien said lightly from outside the door. The kitten fell in the bath. I nearly went through the roof as a small, and very wet cat used me as a climbing frame.
"What?" Damien tried the door, voice sharpening. "Nicky?"
"It's okay, I slipped."
"What on earth did you lock the door for! Are you allright?"
"Fine! Just a minute!"
The kitten chirruped as I picked her up, slipped her into the shower cubicle and shut the door. Damien looked at me, panting, wet and dishevelled, with one bleeding scratch down my chest. I summoned up the best smile I could manage.
"Hi. Good day?"
There was a cantering sound from the shower as the kitten found something chasable. I hastily launched myself at Damien, flung my arms around his neck and devoted several minutes to distracting him as hard as I could.
The trouble with distracting Damien is that he is so damn distracting. It was a while since we'd tried this on the landing. Eventually Damien's hand found my hair and tousled gently.
"I'm going to have to come home early more often if that's the welcome I get."
I shifted until I found both biceps and pulled until he braced over me on his hands and kissed me.
"Suppose we take this somewhere a little more comfortable?"
"How about the kitchen?" I suggested, not altogether facetiously. "I'm starving…"
He laughed, snatched another quick kiss and got up.
"Sort the bathroom out, I'll bring something upstairs."
I sat up and watched him head downstairs. He was in a lovely mood. Although actually, I'd noticed before if he was doing the iron hand act in one part of my life, it wasn't unknown for him to be specially nice in another area. As if I'd ever doubt he loved me. The thud in the shower reminded me of an indignant kitten.
She had a spider on the floor of the shower tray.
I narrowly prevented myself from screeching at the sight of it. The kitten growled, pounced and picked it up in her mouth, several legs waving from between her teeth. I grabbed her up at arm's length, opened the door to the guest room and shut her in there to do with it as she pleased. I'd find a moment to put her back out in the shed. 
Well I meant to.
ITV were showing Hellraiser and Damien insisted on watching it in bed. Which meant -as he knew perfectly well and was infuriatingly amused by- I had to decide between being downstairs alone or surviving the film with him. He's a swine over Halloween when the tv stations run entire horror seasons, I've struggled to sleep through entire seasons of Nightmare on Elm Street. So I spent the evening clutching him, my face mostly buried in his neck, and fell asleep during the intermission for the ten o clock news.
I woke when he turned the tv off at eleven thirty and bluffed my way downstairs to make tea. During which I collected food and milk and managed to get both upstairs unseen. It wasn't easy. If Damien caught me with a saucer of milk and a litter tray, he wasn't likely to believe they were for the spiders. The kitten was fast asleep in the middle of the bed and a thoroughly chewed spider had been sicked up in the middle of the floor. That, Damien was going to HAVE to deal with. I'd work out how I explained it to him in the morning. I felt rather guilty just leaving her shut up, but I'd find some way to take her to work tomorrow, she'd get plenty of company there. 
I naturally wake up early. Damien doesn't. It takes him an alarm clock and a strong mug of tea to make it out of bed at twenty past six. At ten to, the kitten and I were downstairs, making the most of half an hour's peace and quiet.
She loved the living room. I straightened out the kitchen to try and save some time later while she cased the joint from sofa to curtains. She was still swinging up there when Damien staggered past her into the kitchen, wearing nothing but shorts. She noticed him; I saw her pause and her head turned like an owl's to follow him, her eyes wide. Damien, at this hour of the morning, sees nothing but the nearest teabag. I switched the kettle on, caught him before he hit the floor and we cuddled in the foggy chill of a British July morning while I manoevered him gently away from the door. From the doorway, with my heart in my throat, I saw madam zoom down the curtains and bounce upstairs. I whacked the kettle on and untangled Damien, foreseeing a rough morning ahead.
"You're going to freeze. Sit down, I'll get you a t shirt or something-"
"I'll get dressed." Damien grabbed the boiling kettle and found a mug. "Nicky?"
I hesitated half way through the door and gave him a bright smile. "Mmn?"
"You're not going to be late this morning, are you?"
I stuck my tongue out at him.
The kitten had vanished off the face of the earth.
"Your keys are in my jacket pocket downstairs." Damien pointed out when he found me under the bed. I scrambled out with difficulty.
Damien caught my hand before I could try under the bed next door.
"In just a-"
"No, we played that game yesterday. You're not going anywhere, go and shower."
"Yes." I said decisively, reached the landing and dived into the guest bedroom.
"That's NOT the shower." Damien pointed out from our room. He was right. The kitten was not in there either. Damien was standing in the doorway of our room, arms folded. Defeated, I had the quickest shower in history.
"Clothes." Damien greeted me, the minute I emerged. "And hoover."
"Mind if I have breakfast? Is that allright?"
"It's not seven yet, you've got plenty of time." Damien stood, waiting for me to pick up clothes. I glared at him.
"You're going to watch?"
"I can get showered and out of this house in under twenty minutes, I don't have a problem here." He gave me a sweet smile. "Dress."
I dressed. The kitten was going to appear at the least convenient possible moment, I knew it, and we'd have to launch into long, complicated discussions, which were going to make me LATE-
Damien waited until I was dressed, finished making the bed and pointed me downstairs.
"Hoover. I'll be down in a minute, we'll have breakfast, we'll leave on time, it'll be fine."
In who's dreams? I waited until the bathroom door closed behind him, then ransacked the house. No sign of a kitten. My heart stopped as the bathroom door opened.
"Nick. Hoovering. NOW."
Some days I felt like I could replace him with a parrot and not notice the difference.
I grabbed the hoover, turned it on and went on searching for the kitten. Heaven knows where she was, she was well hidden. Mouth dry, upset and thoroughly discombobulated, I took evasive action, put food and water down for her in the guest room and hoped Damien wouldn't go in there. There was no reason to. With luck, she'd turn up before he saw her.
I got back to the hoovering before Damien made it all the way downstairs.
Seven ten. We were sitting, having breakfast, on time, dressed, with the chores done, and I was scanning the kitchen and what I could see of the living room for one small, high speed kitten. I couldn't stand this much longer, I was going to have to tell Damien before I collapsed with high blood pressure.
"Is that all you're going to eat?" Damien said when I got up. I gave him the best smile I could manage.
"Not hungry. Just going to find my watch."
"Try your left wrist." Damien called after me.
I ignored him and searched upstairs one last time. I'd done a lightning speed scan of curtains and corners before the inch opened door of the airing cupboard caught my eye and I opened the door.
Madam was blissfully asleep on a stack of towels. I pushed the door to with a sigh of relief.
Downstairs, I helped Damien wash up with poise and dignity, as if I was never late for anything. On the doorstep at the dot of seven thirty he hooked an arm around my waist and gave me a hug.
"Told you you could do it." 
Life was good. I was an organised, sorted person who could juggle timing, housework and kittens, and an idea for introducing said kitten to Damien was bound to turn up sooner or later.
With that in mind I left the office early at four, headed for the car and rang Damien's mobile, which is quicker than trying to get him on the office phone. He answered straight away, sounding unusually cheerful for a Thursday afternoon.
"Damien Mitchell."
"Its me," I said, covering my free ear to block out the racket of the road, "I finished early, what do you want to eat tonight?"
"I'm open to suggestions. We need milk if you're planning to shop."
"I'll drop into Tescos on the way home. See you in an hour or so."
"Do you want me to feed the kitten then?"
"There's the rest of the tuna in the fridge, thanks. Love you."
"Love you too." Damien hung up. I clicked off the phone and was unlocking the car before it hit me.
Not only was he at home. Early. Again. He'd also met the cat.
It was closer to an hour and a half before I summoned up the courage to walk in through the front door.
Damien was sprawled full length on the living room sofa with the kitten asleep on his chest. From the way his hand cupped around her, she wasn't there under sufferance either. I paused in the doorway and smiled. My man. Softer than butter with a baby cat.
And about to take my head off with the nearest blunt instrument.
I summoned up all the confidence, self possession and cheerfulness available to me and found the voice and presence of a man completely convinced of his own actions.
Damien twisted his head around and Looked at me. I cringed.
"Okay, I had a really good reason."
"Oh good." Damien stroked the kitten, crossing his ankles. "I was afraid you were just going to admit to hiding a cat from me in the airing cupboard."
"It's only a very small cat."
"Nicholas, the size of the cat is irrelevant." Damien lifted the kitten down to the carpet and watched her skitter off after shadows. "Is that, or is that not a cat? And did you know it was in the airing cupboard? Ever heard of lying by omission?"
"How did you find her?" I said tentatively.
"I was looking for socks and a pair unexpectedly bit me. May I ask- although I freely admit, I may not like or even be able to understand the answer- why you're keeping a cat in the airing cupboard?"
"She fell asleep in there." I explained. Hazel eyes pinioned me.
"Having just spontaneously materialised in the house?"
"She's been around for two days, you just haven't noticed!" I protested. "She hasn't bothered you so far!"
"Two-" Damien shook his head. "You've had her in here two days? Nicholas sit down. You're not going anywhere until this is straightened out."
"She was in the shed." Those eyes were starting to get to me, I could hear my voice raising. "Its not as if she's a problem, she's TINY for God's sake!"
"SIT down and don't shout at me." Damien said curtly enough to make me drop straight down onto the sofa.
"I'm NOT shouting."
Damien glared at me. "Where did she come from?"
I swallowed, trying to remember some of the speeches I'd planned over the last few days. They'd sounded together and very convincing then. They sounded pathetic now.
"She was in the garden on Monday morning. I found the box on the other side of a fence- they'd been abandoned, the other kitten was dead-"
"So you brought her in?"
"She was freezing, I wasn't going to leave her!"
"Did you take her to the vet?"
"Monday afternoon, he said she was fine, just underfed- you can see how bright she is-"
Damien's voice cut straight across what would have been a list of her good points.
"And when were you planning to tell me about this adoption?"
I swallowed. "Soon?" 
He went on looking at me. I winced.
"I didn't know how! I knew you wouldn't like it, but she's so little, I couldn't take her to a rescue centre, I really couldn't and I knew you'd insist-"
"So you just didn't tell me?" Damien gave me a grim look. "Nicholas, this is my home as much as yours. I have the right to have SOME say over who shares it! Or at the very least to be given the courtesy of being told when something else moves in!"
"She's a baby! She's got nowhere else to go and I CAN'T take her to a centre-"
"That's NOT the issue." Damien said sharply. The kitten bounded to a halt at his tone and stared at him, wide eyed. Damien lowered his voice fractionally.
"If you'd told me, we could at least have talked about it."
"You'd have said no!" I said hotly.
"So if you think I'll dissent in any matter, you just keep it from me?"
Oh God. That was the cue for lecture no 365, Trust and Responsibility Within Relationships.
"No.." I pleaded, hoping there was still time to head him off. "I just really wanted to keep her and I really didn't want you to say no! I would have told you when the time was right."
Damien flopped back on the sofa and looked at me. "When the time was right? Okay, this is a good time. Any anacondas in the drains you'd like to tell me about? Polar bears in the bath? The odd alligator in the pond that you felt sorry for?"
I glared at him. Damien sighed.
"Nicky. What really bothers me is your asthma. God knows you don't need any more triggers than you already have-"
"I'm not allergic to cats."
"As far as you know." Damien said sharply. "You didn't stop to think about that! If you'd had a major attack in the last day or so, you wouldn't have been in any position to tell a hospital team what had set you off, and I wouldn't have been any use to them as I wouldn't have known either!"
"Asthma is asthma, what DIFFERENCE does it make what sets me off?" I mumbled. Damien fixed me with one of his, Take a Pen and Paper and I'll Tell You looks.
"Cat fur. On your clothes. In the car. In the house. You took a HUGE risk, Nicky. You could have been on a ventilator before anyone realised to get your clothes out of reach, make sure you had no cat hair on your skin, in your eyes-"
"That is a total exaggeration!" I protested. Damien shook his head.
"Nicholas. You have a condition that isn't well controlled, which is very unpredictable and which can be life threatening! You DON'T take risks with it! Again, if we'd taken the decision together about having a cat in the house, we could have at least taken steps to make it safe for you and minimise the danger! I'll bet you haven't even upped the preventatives you take, have you?"
I flushed. Actually he was right: it hadn't even occurred to me to take precautions against a reaction.
"But you can see I'm not allergic to her, so there's no problem." I said with confidence I didn't feel. Damien took no notice whatsoever.
"Whether or not you're allergic to her fur, she's going to add to the dust. Which you ARE allergic to."
"You make me hoover every fifteen minutes, she's not going to get the chance to make dust!"
"It's a stand up fight to get you to hoover!" Damien retorted.
"If I swear I'll hoover, twice a day, faithfully-" I said with all the sincerity I was capable of, "Pleeeeeeeease can she stay?"
Damien's answer was calm, firm and about as immoveable as the rock of Gibraltar.
"We're not discussing that issue at the moment. Whether or not we have a cat living here is something we'll get to once we've sorted out a few other major issues. Like whether or not lying and emotional blackmail are acceptable means of getting me to give you what you want."
"I did NOT blackmail you with anything!"
"Nicky." Damien said patiently. "Making a decision by default is still making a decision. You decided NOT to tell me. In the hope that I would make things easier for you by finding out myself. And in the hope that I would then be too soft hearted to make you re home her! And the way you've set this up, if I DO insist you re home her, I'm casting myself as the wicked witch of the west, aren't I?"
"No," I mumbled, "Just that you can't when she's so little-"
"Exactly." Damien said pointedly. "She's little. She's very sweet. You're clearly in love with her. And you'll be hanging around the house with a broken heart if I do insist she goes. So either I do what you want, regardless of how I feel about it, or I get to be the evil dictator. You didn't want my opinions on this and you've left me very little room to make them known. Is that the way you think a relationship should work? Is that how decisions should be made?"
"I agree with you. And so you know, Nick, if I have to make myself very unpopular around here, I can and WILL do it. I won't put up with being blackmailed into a situation I'm not happy with."
I stared at the carpet, so red now that I could feel my ears burning.
"And I'm still less happy about being lied to." Damien continued relentlessly. "Not just once but constantly over the course of two days."
"I didn't lie!" I said miserably, "She was around, you just didn't see her!"
"Nicholas you've spent two days living a lie! Do you think that's any different? Not to mention the occasional lies you had to tell me in the course of that time to keep her away from me!"
Silence. I wasn't just crashing, I was burnt out and it was black box time. He was death on lying. It was something we'd had run ins on before and the results were never pretty. 
"Having a pet is a big decision." Damien pressed on, going for the hat trick. "It means thinking seriously about whether our lives combine with taking proper care of an animal, it isn't something to do on whim. Particularly not with an animal that's already been abandoned once. If it's going to work, it's something we need to do together."
"I didn't mean to keep it from you," I pleaded, "There just wasn't a good time-"
"There never WOULD have been a good time!" Damien clicked his fingers to the kitten who was trying to pull the castors off the rocking chair. "Would there?"
"No." I admitted.
Silence. I took a deep breath, looking at my hands. "IF she stays…"
"If. It's not as if the house isn't big enough or we're not home enough to be company for her. And we don't go away that often. I can't see there'd be that much of a problem."
Damien looked at me, mouth awry. "The first attack you have because of her-"
"I won't, I promise."
"You can't promise that. And she doesn't go in the bedrooms."  Damien grunted as I hurled my arms around him. "I said IF! And she NEVER goes on the beds, is that clear?"
Well we could work out the exact details later. Introduced gradually enough he'd be receptive to a cat in bed. The kitten, apparently deciding if there was any cuddling going on, she was going to be in the middle of it, levered herself up Damien's leg and fought me for a space on his lap.
"What's she called anyway?" Damien said, scratching her ears. She leaned so hard against his hand she was in danger of falling over. In the hour or so she'd known him, she had clearly figured out who was the one in the house worth buttering up, she was flirting with him shamelessly.
"Zsa Zsa." I said, refusing to relinquish the one of Damien's hands I had possession of. "Or Salome."
"Not nearly vampiric enough." Damien said dryly. "And you and I haven't finished this discussion my lad."
Damien gave me a hug and pushed me gently off his lap. "Upstairs. Find a corner."
"Go on."
Miserably I headed upstairs to my usual corner on the landing. The kitten skittered after me, realised I intended to do nothing more interesting than stand and look at paintwork and vanished into the bathroom. From the sounds of it, she was entertaining herself by galloping in circles around the bath.
I had no idea how long I stood there. It felt like several months and yet Damien still came upstairs far too soon.
"I'm sorry," I said forlornly. "I didn't mean to force you into keeping her, not really- I wanted us to keep her but I didn't mean-"
"I know." Damien leaned on the bannisters and looked at me, his soft hazel eyes gentle. "No malicious intent and not a second of forethought."
"I didn't mean to."
He held out a hand to me. I took it without enthusiasm and trailed him into our room.
"She might have died if I hadn't picked her up."
"Nicky." Damien sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at me. "Do you seriously think I mean you should have left her in that box?"
I took a deep breath. And sighed.
Damien leaned over to the drawer and I winced as he took out the deceptively small, harmless looking paddle I hated only fractionally less than that cane of his. I swallowed on a very dry throat and felt my eyes sting in response.
"You know how I feel about lying." Damien said firmly. "Nor am I going to put up with being manipulated. Now or ever. Come here."
I went to him, slowly unbuttoning my slacks. "I wasn't manipulative about it, I just-"
Damien's hand closed over my wrist and drew me down over his lap.
"Just what?"
In this position I tended to choose words a little more carefully.
"Thought once you got to know her you'd be keener on the idea of having a cat-"
"We covered this point, Nicholas. Asthma. Remember that? Blue lights? Casualty units? Respirators?"
"I kept her in the shed for the first few hours-"
Slacks and shorts were pulled down to my knees.
"I see. To protect yourself from a possible allergy? And yet you didn't change your medication in case you had a reaction."
"I didn't need to, it was fine!"
"You DID need to." The paddle snapped down, hard, making me jump and hiss, twisting my face into the swearing that was NOT going to become audible. Damien didn't pause for breath. "You needed to be a lot more careful. You cannot afford to do anything new or different without thinking first if it's going to affect you, and taking steps to protect yourself! And you can't afford to take risks without telling me. If I don't know, I have no means of helping you if you do get into difficulties."
"I know, I'm sorry!"
Since he was using the paddle to underline about one word in every three, that was about all the coherency I was capable of.  I twisted over his lap, not up to following complicated discussions at this moment in time. I lost track of the lecture that followed. It covered a lot of ground and it was more than thorough, somewhat like the paddle. My initial conviction was that Damien was seriously put out about all this. It was followed by a growing belief that this was never going to end, and that if I lived to be several hundred, I was never going to introduce any animal into this house without Damien's full knowledge and enthusiastic support.
When he finally stopped, I was crying too hard to hear anything he said. I slid down to my knees and buried my face in his lap. He stroked my hair, straightening it, brushing it off my collar. It was an incredibly soothing sensation. Eventually I staggered to my feet and curled up in his lap.
"I don't know why you stick with me. I'm a disaster. I can't even get to work on time."
"I love you. And we're working on that."
"I didn't mean to be manipulative."
"I know." Damien's arms tightened around me, rocking slowly and steadily. "And you're not manipulative. All you need to do is think things through occasionally. If you'd told me-"
"You still would have said no."
"Maybe. Or you might have talked me round, you don't know. You can be very persuasive."
I could hear the smile in his voice. The kitten leapt on to the bed, feinted at the pillows, then rose up on her back legs and batted at them. I was locked around Damien's neck in a strangle hold. Damien freed a hand and stroked her. She rolled over and bit him, chewing energetically on his finger.
"What was the name of that Russian- OW, get off, monster! That Russian princess that was supposed to have survived when her family was killed?"
"Anastasia." I turned my head to see the kitten rabbit kicking at his hand, both paws wrapped around his wrist.
"That's sufficiently vampiric."
"You can't call a poor little scrap like her something horrendous like Anastasia."
"She's fairly horrendous." Damien got his hand away from the Russian princess and examined the scratches. "She's also upstairs and on the bed."
I managed a faint sound of amusement. "You're the top. YOU tell her."
He kissed the top of my head.
"Take her downstairs."
I unwillingly untangled myself from his lap and got up, clicking my fingers to madam. She did her rampant lion bit again and cantered out onto the landing. Damien stretched until his shoulders cracked.
"I'm going to have a shower. Are you cooking tonight?"
About now, I couldn't have cared less about cooking or eating. Damien pulled me back to him and gave me one more crushing hug.
"I'll be five minutes, go on."
The kitten fled downstairs as he opened the cupboard door and the avalanche of my stuffed belongings fell at his feet. 
~ The End ~

Copyright Ranger 2010


Key said...

I'm re reading my way through all your Nick and Damien stories for the umpteenth time, and have to admit they are one of my favourite couples. At least one of you has to be British because the level of sarcasm in these stories can only be achieved by the British! LOL, I love it!!! Thank you for sharing them x

Melogale said...

Once again I re-read Nick and Damien and I love it more and more. This story is one of my favourites (I have 3 cats:-))

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